A Communist Party of India [CPI (ML)] fact-finding team visited Orissa’s Kandhamal District on 15-16 October, 2008. The team visited affected villages and relief camps, after facing interrogation by the Orissa Police and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). The team also met District Magistrate (DM) and various police officials of Kandhamal district. Below is a report by team member J P Minz.
1. The District Magistrate’s (DM) Statement: The DM told us that Kandhamal had been peaceful for the preceding ten days. Whereas there used to be fifteen relief camps, now only seven were operational, having 12,641 people. According to him, breakfast, meals, supplementary food meant for children, and iron and calcium tablets for pregnant women are available in these camps; a doctor is available round the clock; books are available for children and there are regular reading sessions. Blankets, sarees, buckets and mugs and similar essentials have also been provided.
2. Conditions at the Relief Camps: Our team visited Phulbani, Tikabali, Ji Udaygiri and Rakiya relief camps and found that the inmates of the camp are living in extremely bad conditions. In the name of breakfast they get only fifty grams of chura (beaten rice) and rice-dal for meals, which is not enough to satisfy the needs of hunger and nutrition. In the name of supplementary food, the children are occasionally given biscuits. Bathing soaps have been distributed just once in the camps. The doctors do visit but patients are told that there is no medicine. There is no arrangement for pregnant women. The camp inmates sleep on plastic mats on the ground. They have to defecate in the open, which apart from being unhygienic also puts them in danger. One inmate of Ji Udaygiri camp, we were told, was killed when he had gone to defecate.
3. Role of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal: The victims in all the relief camps unanimously told the fact finding team that it is the VHP and Bajrang Dal cadres who have sowed the seeds of communal division in the villages. They used to organize meetings of the Kandha tribals and incite them to attack the Christian hamlets and also provided funds for doing this.
4. Role of the Police and Administration: The anti-Christian riots in Kandhamal started on the day of the bandh called by VHP after the murder of Swami Lakshmananad, and these riots continued for over a month. In the communal fire two hundred Christian villages and 127 Church and prayer halls were either destroyed or burnt. Apart from this, schools, hospitals, hostels and convents also have been damaged. The incidents of killings, rape and loot also were carried out in addition to former incidents. The shocking fact is that all these incidents took place in full view of police and the police remained mute spectators.
The official figure for deaths has been reported to be 31, however, a senior government official on the condition of anonymity informed that he himself consigned two hundred dead bodies – found from the jungle – to flames after getting them collected in a tractor. As per his estimates based on the intensity and pace of killings the number of those killed is over five hundred.
5. Atmosphere of Terror: The Christians continue to experience great terror. The Sangh outfits are campaigning for sending back the CRPF and the Nikhil Utkal Kui community is threatening to launch an armed movement. Riot-victims are frightened to go back to their villages because they have been threatened that if they return they will be hacked into pieces. The rioters are also proclaiming that only Hindu converts will be allowed to return. On the other hand, those in charge of the relief camps are pressurizing the riot victims to return to their villages saying that the life has returned to normalcy and peace has returned.
1. This violence was a pre-planned anti-Christian communal assault, and in no way was it a ‘clash’ between adivasi (tribals) and dalits.
2. This violence which had full support from the Biju Janta Dal Government was planned and executed by VHP and Bajrang Dal.
3. The Sangh’s propaganda about ‘indiscriminate religious conversion’ is a far cry from facts, as the Christian population of Orissa is only 2.5 per cent of the total population. It is to be noted that Christian missionaries began working in Orissa 150 years back.
4. Dalits have far less proportion of land in comparison to the Kandha tribals. In Kandhamal 90 per cent land is government land, 5.5 percent belongs to tribals and rest 4.5 per cent belongs to Dalits, OBC and Oriya (businessmen). There is not much difference in the economic conditions of the tribals and the dalits. The dalits are very slightly better off as they engage in small businesses.
1. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal (BD) should be banned.
2. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik responsible for the violence should tender his resignation immediately
3. The accused for the riots be immediately arrested.
4. The Orissa Govt. must reconstruct all houses, churches, schools, hostels, hospitals and other social-religious structures demolished during the violence and for other damages adequate compensation be granted after a proper survey
5. The relief camps be run for another six months and proper civic arrangements for food, medicine and sanitation be made in these camps.
6. Arrangements be made for registering First Information Reports (FIRs) related to the communal violence at all police stations.
7. Peace process be initiated and guarantees be made for reopening and running of schools, hospitals and other institutes run by the Christian missionaries.
* Liberation Magazine, November, 2008.