Orissa: A visit to Kandhmal [Excerpts] *

On the request of our Superior General, Very Rev. Fr. Subhash Jose,IMS, I visited Orissa from November 20th-23rd 2008. In Bhubaneswar I met Archbishop Raphael Cheenath,SVD. His Grace gave a detailed description of the current situation of his archdiocese, especially of missions in Kandhmal district. …. From what I gathered, the state government has decided to close down relief camps by the 30th of November 2008. This was because of the government’s false belief that the situation had returned to near normal and people have gone back to their places. This is far from the real situation and the government officials realize this. Hence it was decided that the church will open relief camps at Kandhmal and the government will provide CRPF security and food materials to the camp. But the actual running of these camps will be in the hands of the church. At first, the local administration was reluctant to allow the church personnel in the camps. But now that situation is different. The local administration is supportive and wants that the church actually run the camps with government help.

During the day the people in the camps would be encouraged to visit their village to interact with their neighbors and friends, to harvest their paddy crop and care for the animals etc. But at evening they would be obliged to return to the camps as the government would not be able to provide them with security in individual villages. Then when confidence is built and peace returns the people would go back to their villages. As I understand, a lot of peace initiative will be required before normalcy returns to Kandhmal and other troubled districts of Orissa.

The Archbishop also informed me that he may need volunteers both priests and sisters to be with the people in the camps. He insisted that he does not encourage visitors but those who are willing to stay for a month or more in the camps. The volunteers need to be with the people to help in the camps, take care of the medical needs and if needed of counseling. The neighboring dioceses of Berhampur and Balasore may assist with volunteers as they know the language. But His Grace told me that simple Hindi will do to assist in the camps. Cerebral malaria and dysentery are common in Kandhmal region hence volunteers need to take care of their health.

More than 6000 houses and institutions stand in need of rebuilding in this region. Each house may cost Rs.2,50,000/=. Of this the state government of Orissa has promised to pay Rs.50,000/=, voluntary labor may add to another Rs.50,000/= and the rest the church may mobilize from other resources. It’s, as one can see, is going to be a mammoth task and how this project will be realized coming months will tell us.

My next destination was Berhampur. … Fortunately, Berhampur diocese did not suffer many damages. One of its mission stations was totally destroyed and other three partially damaged. But the missionaries, priests and religious and faithful live in great fear. I am grateful to Fr.Paul Pulickal who drove me in a hired taxi to Mohana and Birikot missions in remote jungles. In Birikot the Sccg sisters live in great fear. In the height of violence they sent the poor boarding girls to their villages, locked the convent in the evening and took shelter in some safe places with other villagers.

One evening I met Rev.Fr.Matthew Kallamkal,C.M. the young and energetic Provincial Superior of CM Missioners. He is also the President of CRI unit of Orissa. … The CRI under his president ship has great plans for rehabilitation of suffering people especially in Kandhmal, Rayagada, and Gajapati districts of Orissa.

Protecting Youth From Maoist Influence

Both the dioceses had near about 1000 youth to take care in Bhubaneswar and Berhampur towns. The dioceses provided the youth with food and shelter and now wants to encourage them to go back to their families. Fearing for their safety, these youth were housed in different Catholic institutions and not in camps. It is worth noting that a great number of youth are sent for vocational training to different parts of India. The whole Kandhmal area is a Maoist stronghold. It was the Maoists who took responsibility for the killing of Swamy Lakshamanananda in Kandhmal. Tortured, harassed youth will be a ready fodder for Maoist to recruit them. Thus the church was able to save these youth from the Maoist influence.

Maoist people’s court has passed ‘Mirtudand’ (death penalty) on some eleven perpetuators of anti-Christian violence in Orissa. Notices were posted to these effects in prominent places in entire Kandhmal region. Police removes these notices when ever these appear. The only concession the Maoists gave the individuals awarded of Mirtudand was that they could repent and leave Kandhmal for good. When the second person, a Contractor, was killed by the Maoists, the church expected a backlash. But nothing happened as the other Sangh Pativar members fled in fear out of Kandhmal. The violence in Orissa was supported by outsiders, traders and Sangh parivar outfits. The only power they are afraid of is that of Maoists.

The Jesuit REPORT
I want to enclose a part of the Report prepared by a group of the Jesuits (Frs. Joseph Xavier, AJX Bosco, Jebamalai Raja, and Stephen Martin,S.J., who visited Kandhmal recently. This Report is available on the CBCI website:
• “An estimated 150,000 or more people are affected across the state out of which 100,000 are from Kandhamal district alone. Other districts like Rayagada and Gajapati have over 25,000 and small numbers spread across other affected districts. In Kandhamal district, the worst affected blocks are Phulbani, Tumudibandh, Kotagrah, G Udayagiri, Raikya, Nuagoan and Tikabali.
• It is still unknown how many people are MISSING, who may have died or been killed in the forests or ran away to other states. The civil society groups estimate about 30,000 people had fled to states like Kerala, UP, Chttisgargh and Delhi.
• 14 out of 30 districts in Orissa are affected.
• 12 religious / pastors beaten, raped, or abused, 5 of whom had died. About 23,000 people are in different camps in the state.
Understanding the root causes:
The state as well as media projected the present violence as either Hindu vs Christian or Adivasis (Kondhs) vs Dalits (Panos) issue. Conversions and killing of the VHP leader opposing the same was said to be the major reason behind the entire episode. In our analysis the basic reasons behind these attacks are the power relations that have been challenged by the church’s interventions and work with the most marginalized.  Of late enlightened local people have started questioning land alienation, poor development indicators, exploitation by the dominant caste traders (from outside the district) and intrusion of communal forces in Kandhamal. These challenges from the grassroots annoyed the fundamentalist forces.

Like Gujarat where BJP conducted a ‘politically’ successful experiment by killing more than 3000 Muslims in 2002, a majority vs minority syndrome was being used by BJP as a step towards victory in the elections. All the indicators show that Orissa was a replay of Gujarat. Though majority of the victims were Pano Christians, considerable number of Christian Adivasis were also assaulted. Attack on non-Christian Panos and non-Christian Adivasis was evident in some places. In the first two weeks the rioters were non local and were mobilized from outside Kandhamal and also the state. There are also enough evidences that the local traders were among the perpetrators and belonged to Sangh Parivar, particularly to Vishwa Hindu Parisad (VHP) and Bajrag Dal (BD). The broad strategy of these forces seemed to be elimination of both Dalits and Adivasis, irrespective of their religion, and take control over the land and rich natural resources of Kandhamal.
The present violence is not just a break down of law and order. The state has overtly and covertly supported Bajrangis and traders who matter a lot in terms of sustaining political control over the Dalits and Adivasis. Yet another reason was that already with Kalinganagar struggle, wherein 13 Adivasis were shot dead by the police, the ruling BJD was loosing its ground particularly with the Adivasi communities. It needed to prove that BJD still requires the Adivasi votes to win both local and state elections. For BJP it was immediate interest in the forthcoming State as well as national elections. BJP wanted to turn Orissa into another Gujarat and win majority of the seats. The only tool available for the fascist forces was religious divide. That is why BJP needed outside support to carry out attack on the Christians of Kandhamal. The strategy worked perfectly for BJP, VHP and BD and they were able to whip up religious emotions and instigate the non-Christian Adivasis to attack the Christian Dalits and Adivasis. The extent of damage could have been considerably reduced if only the Central government had acted swiftly. The present United Progressive Alliance government was also taking a soft stand on the issue fearing backlash in the election year.

The Response:
Despite the non-vibrant Civil Society in Orissa, as compared to Gujarat or Karnataka, some individuals and organisations had initiated well thought out responses to the present violence. The national level fact finding teams, interventions of National Commission for Scheduled Castes had exerted reasonable pressure on the state to deal with the situation sternly. The Church leaders had also come out in open, particularly at the national level to condemn the violence, demanding the intervention of the Supreme Court. Inter-Agencies managed to initiate discussion at the local administration level to carryout minimum relief works, particularly medical care. As per the opinion of the people in the camps the intervention of CRPF in dealing firmly with the perpetrators of violence had reduced the attacks. Obviously these responses are a minimum. More systematic and coordinated response is the need of the hour at the ground level by the state and there is a need to de-saffronise the local media, which is all out in joining hands with fundamentalist forces.
The crucial issue behind the entire episode is control over land and natural resources. In Kandhamal the Adivasis and Dalits are about 51% and 17% respectively. In the recent past the intrusion of traders from outside the district and state has disturbed the Adivasi-Dalit harmony and sensitive tolerance towards one another. It is the responsibility of the state to ensure that both these communities are primary stakeholders of land and natural resources in the district.
As recommended by the fact finding teams the state has to provide safety and security to all the affected people. Along with providing immediate relief like food, medical care, household materials, clothes and temporary shelter the state must provide compensation of Rupees ten lakhs to the next of kin of the killed during the violence and reasonable compensation to those physically and mentally tortured and those who have suffered bodily injuries while trying to escape from the marauding mob. The state must evolve a comprehensive rehabilitation package which would include the following: assessment of extent of damage, rebuilding of the destroyed houses and where the houses are totally burnt construction of new houses, reconstruction of homes, institutions and places of worship, special package for the education of the students, reissuing of certificates, housing and land documents, bank accounts, ration cards etc on the basis of affidavits filed by the community or gram sabha.”

*Fr.Mahendra Paul, IMS (Asst.Superior General)


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