The Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF) led a four member fact finding team along with reps of four major media groups on a four day fact finding mission, 22-23 October. Here is their report.
24 October: Bhubaneswar – The attacks carried out on Christians living in the villages of Kandhamal district, Orissa were planned and executed by the Hindu fundamentalist groups VHP, RSS and Bajrang Dal. With the BJD-BJP combine in power, the state machinery did nothing to stop the criminals from having their way and the violence spread to other parts of the district, which are largely inaccessible. The murder of Laxmananda Saraswati was used as a trigger to instigate large scale violence. A visit by a team from Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF) in the affected areas on October 22-23, revealed the atrocities carried out on the people who have also been living in the same areas with their neighbours from other communities for the last few decades. Though Maoists have claimed responsibility for the killing of Laxmananda Saraswati, the state government so far has yet to make any breakthrough in the case. Nor has it been able to pinpoint who carried out the attacks.
From the night of August 23, mob shouting slogans for Bajrang Dal and proclaiming a Hindu Rashtra went around the villages carrying arms before attacking houses belonging to Christians. In most of the cases, outsiders guided by a section of the villagers led the attacks. Though, the district administration claims to have arrested around 650 people involved in the riot, some of the master-minds are still at large.
The attackers didn’t spare women and handicapped (one of whom was burnt to death in Gadaragam). Houses were ransacked and set on fire, belongings stolen. Remains of churches at Rupagam bore grim evidence of the hatred with which the attackers carried out their plans. A woman Salima Pradhan of Gadaragam couldn’t flee from the village and is living in the ruins of the houses where her relatives once lived. The woman has received no assistance from the administration and is begging for food.
Another case in point is Beheragam where as many as 40 houses were burnt. The residents managed to escape to the adjoining forest areas and survived. Hardly any of them have been able to return to their homes. Though, the administration has closed down one camp at Bariguda (where the refugees have returned home) in the rest of the camps like the ones in G. Udaygiri it will still take some time for the villagers to feel secure and return home. Those staying in the camps are afraid of another round of violence and don’t want to return home. Even the presence of CRPF has done little to boost their confidence. Some of the camp dwellers told the fact-finding team that only those who converted to Hinduism are being allowed in. They told the fact-finding team that their relatives were forced to tonsure their heads and go through a purification ritual before they were allowed to return. Posters claiming that the a Hindu country is for Hindus still remain. In a burnt down house at Gadaragam, one such poster still remains.
There are some more villagers who have fled to Bhubanaeswar and living in camps. None of them are willing to go back to their homes right now.
The refugees point towards a school Gurukul Sanskrit Mahavidyalaya started by Laxmananda Saraswati at Chakapada from where the anti-Christian feelings are being encouraged. They believe the villages in Kandhamal won’t be any safer till the school remain.
At the camps, the people are surviving on the bare minimum. For a family of 10 only two blankets have been provided. There are no less than 3000 people staying in filthy conditions. Among them are the elderly, sick and pregnant women. As many as 40 schools are closed down and the students about to appear Board exams face an uncertain future.
The team urges the Government to immediately:
- Arrests all culprits and restore rule of law
- Provide adequate facilities in the relief camps
- Institute a Judicial inquiry by a sitting Judge into the event
- Provide adequate compensation to all victims
- Provide proper rehabilitation of all displaced.
Composition of the team:
- Chittaranjan Singh, writer/Human rights activist, National Organising Secretary -PUCL, Uttar Pradesh
- Dr. Ms. Shiamala Baby, gender activist – Director, Forward, Tamil Nadu
- Dr. Ms. Saroop Dhruv, poetess/writer/activist, Ahmedabad
- Dhirendra Panda, activist, Bhubaneswar.
Accompanied by media team of:
- Arnab Ganguly, Special Correspondent, Times of India, Kolkata
- Ms. Bala Chauhan, Chief of Bureau (investigation), Deccan Chronicle, Bangalore.
- Prashant Nanda, Special Correspondent, IANS, Delhi
- Bhupen Singh, writer & news producer, ZEE NEWS, Delhi
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