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Interim report of Orissa FFM - Released on Sept. 25, 2008

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  • Rev. Fr. Thomas Ninan,New Delhi
    Dear All, While Suraj and Alexander can continue to go on arguing, let us meanwhile consider this interim report prepared by a fact finding mission consisting
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 30, 2008
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      Dear All,
      While Suraj and Alexander can continue to go on arguing, let us meanwhile consider this interim report prepared by a fact finding mission consisting of prominent citizens who went as volunteers to Orissa recently.
      Please note that the reality today is about 50000 Indians (wouldn't use the word Christian here) are today living in jungles of Orissa out of fear and without basic amenities. Of these, if we take 10000 as men, 10000 as women, 30000 are then children. The Govt has not allowed food or shelter relief to reach Orissa as of today.
      It's time for action now, not to argue atleast for the sake of those children and pregnant women in the jungle. I am ashamed to call myself an Indian, where a few of my brother Indians have found the courage to continue their slaughter of fellow Indians, rape them and ensure that they will succumb to injuries, hunger and illness.
      Calling every Indian to make a human response to put an end to such atrocities and work towards peace in Orissa and elsewhere in India, where violence appears to be escalating.

      Your fellow citizen
      Fr. Thomas Ninan, New Delhi

      INTERIM REPORT

      CONCERNED CITIZENS' INDEPENDENT FACT- FINDING MISSION
      KANDHAMAL, SEPTEMBER 2008, ORISSA

      Released on 25th of September 2008 at a Press Conference in IWPC, New Delhi

      (Speakers at Press Conference: Prof. Manoranjan Mohanty, Prof. Kamal Mitra Chenoy, Ms. Sagari Chhabra, Ms. Seema Mustafa and Mr. Bijulal MV)

      Orissa has been in the news in the recent years because of the people's movements against the mega projects in Kashipur, Kalinganagar, Niyamgiri, Lanjhigrah, Jagatsinghpur and Paradip which have contributed to large scale displacement of people. But another trend which was growing during the past decade - the rise of communal forces led by the Sangha Parivar has taken a serious turn since the last week of August with systematic attacks on Christians in Kandhamal district and elsewhere. Christians are only 2.36% of India's population, but have a rich tradition of founding and running the most prestigious educational and health-care institutions of the country.

      However, the past couple of months witnessed violent attack on Christians in some states. Particularly, since August 24th, the Christians in Orissa have experienced the worst ever communal violence, their churches have been burnt, Christian orphanages and other institutions have been set on fire, pastors attacked, one was killed, one nun was burnt alive while another was gang-raped. All this followed the night of August 23 when the controversial VHP leader, Swami Laxmananda Saraswati and his four associates were killed by a group of armed assassins, while celebrating Janmashtmi at Jalespata Ashram.

      In the wake of this continuing violence a fact- finding team of concerned citizens across the country visited Orissa. The group consisted of scholars, journalists and activists;

      Members of the fact-finding Team
      * Prof. Manoranjan Mohanty, University of Delhi
      * Prof. Amit Bhaduri, Prof (Emeritus) Jawaharlal Nehru University (J.N.U)
      * Prof. Kamal Mitra Chenoy, J.N.U
      * Ms. Seema Mustafa, Senior Journalist & Editor, Covert
      * Ms. Sagari Chhabra, Film-maker & Writer, Delhi
      * Mr. Bijulal MV, Delhi Solidarity Group and Indian Social Institute, Delhi,
      * Dr. Prasad, National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR - NDMJ)
      * Mr. Vincent Manoharan, National Secretary, NCDHR, Delhi
      * Dr. Prakash Louis, Director, Bihar Social Institute, Patna
      * Mr. Prafula Samantrai, President, Lok Shakti Abhiyan, Orissa
      * Mr. Rajesh Jena, Advocate, Bhubaneswar

      The team visited the camps and villages from 15th September 2008 to 18th and interacted with people from diverse backgrounds, religions and castes. The team also held consultations with state authorities, political party leaders and elected representatives and social workers.

      The terms of reference (ToR) of this team included:
      * Visit the affected areas, meet the victims and enquire into the incidents/violence
      * Meet relevant government officials and others
      * Look into the role played by religious fundamentalist forces in the violence
      * Make recommendations to appropriate bodies

      Who killed Swami Laxmananda Saraswati?
      While the Maoists have claimed that they did so, the VHP insists on blaming the Christians and exacting their 'revenge'. The fact is that the Swami was the centre of much controversy in the region and had many criminal cases pending against him and only a high level judicial inquiry can find the truth behind the killing, which was condemned by all sections of society. This was not a ToR of the team and the team did not go further into the details of this.

      Villages and towns visited during the Fact-finding mission
      Kalinga, Tikabali, Nuogan, Baliguda, Mereka, Paburiam Tiangia, Malikapada, Sarang guda, Pabingia, Kasipadar, Dimligud, Kasingpada, G.Udayagiri, Mandakia, Boruigia, Nilangia, Bakingia, Raikia and Phulbani.

      Extent of violence:
      In Kandhamal district alone 27,000 people became refugees and started living in camps, while 101 churches were attacked.

      Situation In The Camps:
      In G. Udayagiri block at a primary school, 'Hathishala' over 900 people were living in tents and in the school building. There were 269 men, 365 women, 114 girls and 153 boys. Despite the number of children, none of them received milk and all got a basic dole of 'chidwa' for breakfast and dal-chawal for lunch and dinner.

      The following are testimonies recorded by the team. The true identities of the people met are not being revealed as they are under threat as the violence is continuing.

      Testimonies of the people at camps; 'Hathishala' camp, G.Udayagiri:
      Role of VHP & Bajrang Dal:
      A woman of Raikula said "A large crowd shouting slogans of Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad came in a mob. They broke into our house and burnt it. All our belongings are no more. In fear we ran into the jungle. We stayed there for four days with our children, who got fever and diarrohea. We did not eat for four to five days and walked over forty kilometres to get to a camp.

      Another woman from Raikula said; "We were attacked by the Bajrang Dal and the RSS. They said 'stop being a Christian and become a Hindu'. They even burnt our Church. I have been a Christian from birth. Last December, in 2007, they came with guns, 'katras', small axes, big axes and swords. This time on 27th August '08 they came again and burnt everything. If we attempt to go back home they threaten to kill us."

      A man from Raikula said; " I am a teacher in a school, about 12 kilometres from here. There are two tribes in Kandhamal; the Kandhas are Hindu and the Panas are largely Christian. We Panas have been Christians for many years and don't want to become Hindus. Now regarding the killing of Swami Lakshmanand Saraswati, we don't know who killed him. The Naxalites write and claim they killed him, but they suspect the Christians. They have driven us out from our land and property. The Panas belong to the Kui tribe. Here in the camp you can see, we are in a terrible condition. It has been raining for two weeks and the tents are leaking. Neither the police nor the government is taking the responsibility in protecting us."

      Killed for Returning Home:
      Man from Raikula, "One man, Purender Nayak, of Nilungia, went back to see the condition of his house. They killed him and cut his body into pieces. The VHP, Bajrang Dal and RSS are coming from other districts and making the Kandhas do this. Even now, even while we are at the camp, they come outside to abduct and rape our girls. We have no hope at all".

      Orphanage attacked:
      He also said, he ran an orphanage and for three days he did not know the condition of the children. "Some faithful people took them to the camps, but I still do not know the whereabouts of one girl - Taruna Pradhan aged twelve". He also stated that the police do not respond to calls before the incident, but would come after the houses are burnt. The mob would carry kerosene and consume a local liquor 'kalu'. He also stated that the few Kandhas who were Christian were also being driven out.

      Pregnant Women:
      The team met several women who were in advanced stage of their pregnancy. A woman in her pregnancy from village Raikula said "I was pregnant, but when they came I ran. I miscarried the baby."

      Another woman who is nine months pregnant, also gets only rice and dal twice at the camp. She said "They killed my father-in-law and were searching for my husband who is a pastor. They could not find him, because he had already left. The government is supporting them (the attackers).

      A man asked if Christians could be shifted elsewhere where they could be kept safely. He said; "This is the work of the RSS, VHP and BJP who provide moral support, petrol and kerosene. Innocent tribals are not like them. He said 25 people related to the camp inmates had been killed."

      At the Habak High School camp, the people named the local people by name who were involved in burning their homes after forcing them to convert to Hinduism in Kiriamaha, Udayagiri.

      Pastor killed along with his mother:
      A man belonging to village Bakingiya, Police station area of Raikia, said "Fifty to sixty people persons attacked us. First they destroyed the church and then they came to my house. The pastor of the Baptist church was reading the Bible, they forced him to throw the Bible. He refused, they cut him with an axe and burnt him with petrol. His name was Samuel Diggal. His mother, Janamah Diggal was also burnt. She is also dead."

      A man belonging to village Rudangia Police station in G. Udayagiri stated "the mob killed Fidem Nayak, aged 52, Shashi Kant Nayak, aged 60 and Madan Nayak aged 45. All three were Christian pastors. Nobody has been arrested till today."

      Hindu preaching amity killed:
      A Hindu, Dasrath Pradhan, was killed because he preached amity between Hindus and Christians. The team met his sister who told us "they first called him for a meeting and then cut his body into three pieces." The team also met his mother who was an eye-witness to this.

      The above testimonies reveal the attacks on the Christians was a pre-planned communal attack as only Christian houses were singled out and burnt. The people also told us the names of the local people involved, but they were led by a mob that came from outside and included the VHP and the Bajrang Dal.

      Security Within Camps - Cause For Concern:
      Security situation in the Udayagiri camp is a real matter of concern. It was reported to us that on 28 August around 7 p.m. three crude bottle bombs exploded in the camp premise. However no one was harmed since they landed in the open space close to the entrance. Some rowdy elements who came in bikes have thrown the bombs, whose identity could not be ascertained. People narrated their plight before reaching the camps. In several cases they were forced to stay in the forest with out food or proper clothing to protect themselves from cold. Many of them were forced to leave their villages with no time left but to save lives. It was reported to us that some people in their own village colluded with outsiders (names of the perpetrators of violence as reported, are with the team) and mobs of nearly 500 strong most of them wearing saffron head bands with weapons like guns, swords and other sharp weapons came in large numbers to chase all those who were unwilling to convert to Hinduism. Many people were forced to convert to Hinduism in fear and were asked to burn the bible as the first step of 'conversion' in many cases. Tonsuring, taking an oath to remain in Hinduism and drinking ritual water for purification were the other practices imposed on them.

      Hubbacka High School Camp G. Udayagiri
      At the time we reached this camp where the largest number of families were staying, the officials informed us only three policemen of the CRPF were at the gate. It was reported to us that the state police had earlier committed dereliction of duty by letting an anti- social element enter the camp on September 06 around 10 a.m., who threatened the inmates.

      This person was identified as one of the perpetrators of violence in a village, from where many were living in the camp. He was held by the police, taken to the police station, right opposite to the camp, and later let off by them without registering an FIR. It was alleged that later, this person went to a police station 23 kms away from Udayagiri, where he registered a complaint against a few people in the camp who helped the police detain him while he was creating mischief in the camp. Conditions under which they lived in the forests at the time of organized violence were similar to that of the first camp. The people said that the number of victims as appeared in media doesn't reflect the truth. A group of four persons instantaneously recollected the name of five men killed between 25 August to 28 August in gram panchayat Kathinga alone.

      Dasrath Pradhan age 35-38 25 August
      Bikram Naik 38 28
      Parkhita Naik 33 28
      Trinato Naik 42 25
      Dibya Singh 32 25

      Visit to the villages and towns in Kandhamal district where violence had occurred:
      The team visited several villages in Kandhamal district. The villages were: Villages visited during the Fact-finding: Kalinga, Tikabali, Nuogan, Baliguda, Mereka, Paburia,m Tiangia, Malikapada, Sarang guda, Pabingia, Kasipadar, Dimligud, Kasingpada, G.Udayagiri, Mandakia, Boruigia, Nilangia, Bakingia, Raikia and Phulbani.

      Only Christian Houses And Churches Gutted:
      We saw several villages with Christian houses gutted but did not see any Hindu houses that were gutted. Several churches were extensively damaged. This also shows the intensity and nature of the one-sided orchestrated attacks.

      Team threatened & blockaded
      At Bakingia village there is extensive gutting of a large number of houses. It is clear that a large amount of petrol or kerosene has been used as the damage is extensive. In some houses there are locks; which implies that the mob jumped through the roof to burn the inside of the house. All the houses belong to the Christians and at the end of the road a Church is badly damaged; its brick structure has been broken down. No one is willing talk "We were not here; we have seen nothing" is the standard response. As we take photographs, a group of nearly forty women surrounded us with lathis - sticks and umbrellas. They blocked our exit with large stones, so we are unable to leave the village. They call us 'foreigners'. They eye us with aggression. Very reluctantly the group allows us to leave. As we drove further, the road was blocked by huge stones; we managed lift some of them for our vehicles to drive up. At the end of the road we noticed a van full of men. They drove into the village giving us sullen looks.

      Justification for violence given:
      In Nilingia in G.Udayagiri several Christian houses had been gutted and a church has been damaged. Panima Pradhan a Kandha justified the burning of the Christian houses. Her body language was aggressive, pointing at the poster of the swami outside her house she said " Why was he killed?" When we ask her the connection between her neighbour's house being gutted and his death she responds "Why did they run away, that is why their houses were burnt." A group of about twenty people kept a watch on us, as we walk away.

      Meeting the officials:
      It was also clear from the testimonies given by the people that the attacks were well planned and the police movement was blocked by the blockade of roads. In one case the police officials said that 'it took the six hours to travel eighty kilometres', which was the case for all the four days since the violence began. All these indicate the pre-planned nature of the violence and the ability of the perpetrators of violence to 'effectively' take over the law and order situation in their control.

      Dereliction of Duty:

      While the mayhem took place, the police was a silent spectator. Only in one instance, the CRPF fired at rioters killing two. While the state government repeats its alibi that it was short of police and had not got the paramilitary forces required; that is 10 battalions instead of the 4 CRPF battalions dispatched. This argument does not hold water. To maintain the law and order of just one district, the Orissa police forces along with 4 CRPF battalions were enough, if stopping communal violence was really the aim.

      The district officials were not in a position to tell the team of the number of arrests. They also informed us that they are working in accordance with the Supreme Court direction on maintaining law and order. On enquiring on the general complaint from the people regarding many instances of inaction and dereliction of duty by the state police while controlling violence, the district officials said that arrests cannot be done in many situations 'because if arrests are made the situation would have further deteriorated'. Such statements are self-explanatory and proves that the police was not undertaking the primary responsibility to stop violence by booking the culprits.

      The team also met the DIG police R.P Koche, the Revenue Divisional Commissioner, Satyabrat Sahu, under whose jurisdiction comes the Kandhamal district including its law and order and the refugee camps. Team also met Madhusudan Padhi, Commissioner cum Secretary, Dept. of Higher Education. After being initially told that they were not present at the circuit house in Phulbani, the officials finally agreed to meet us.

      Where are the internally displaced people going?
      Mr Sahu, said :"At the peak there were 27,000 people in the camps now there are only 17000 don't you appreciate this?" While the number in the camps may have reduced by ten thousand people, the fact is that the people are not returning home, due to continuing terror and their psychological insecurity. In reality, it appears that, they are leaving the inhospitable conditions in the camps for undisclosed destinations and could well become the homeless of India.

      Improper Collection of data:
      Mr R.P Koche the DIG police shared statistics of the police. The data recorded by the state, showed 2863 houses burnt yet showed only 230 criminal cases registered. When asked why no arrests had been made we were told; "it would increase the tension in the area." The police has recorded only 35 cases of injury whereas a visit to the camps reveals that the incidence of violence was much higher. In other words there is improper collection and recording of data.
      Lack of Nourishing Diet for Children and Pregnant Women:
      Mr. Madhu Sudan Padhi, IAS, specially stationed at Phulbani ridiculed the use of the word "refugees" and asked if the team knew the definition. When told there were several women who were in an advanced stage of pregnancy in the camps who should get special diet and medical attention he proudly announced; "already twelve children have been born in the camps. You are telling us nothing new." Requests that at least the children and pregnant women get milk, have not been not acceded to until now as far as we know.

      History:

      The tensions within Orissa and specifically within Kandhamal are not new. On 22 January 1999, the Australian missionary Graham Stuart Staines and his two minor sons were burnt to death by a crowd in Keonjhar district. Again on 9th September, 1999 Father Aruldoss was killed by fundamentalist groups and on 24 December '07 as the Christians were preparing for Christmas, Hindutva forces unleashed a reign of terror against them. The violence continued for a month as hundreds of houses, institutions and property were destroyed and several were killed. In the last decade, violence against minority groups in Orissa has included social and economic boycotts, forced conversion - 'ghar wapsi', intimidation, murder, arson, rape, looting and other extra-legal actions.

      Underlying Tensions:
      In Hinduising Adivasis and polarising relations between them and Dalits in the area, the Sangh Parivar has engineered a rivalry between Kandha Adivasis and pana Dalit Christians in Kandhamal, instigating against the latter's campaign for scheduled tribe status. Dalit Christians under the law forfeit their right to affirmative action. In current law, Paragraph 3 of the Constitution (scheduled castes) order, 1950 held caste and religion to be mutually exclusive; 'no person who professes a religion different from the Hindu (later amended to include the Sikh or the Buddhist) religion shall be deemed to be a member of the Secheduled Caste' (Ministry of Law and Justice, 2006.) In other words, Dalits who convert to Christianity are divested of scheduled caste status and affirmative action afforded by the state via the 'reservation' system. This Christian leaders contend, impacts the ability of Dalit Christians to secure resources routinely controlled by those from upper caste backgrounds. Dalit converts to Hinduism are not denied such rights.

      State institutions are in internal disagreement over the issue of affirmative action for religious minorities. Responding to a writ petition the Supreme Court asked the government for arguments and guidelines on broadening the assistance of reservation to scheduled castes that convert to Christianity. The government deferred the issue to the Ranganath Mishra National Commission for Linguistic and Religious Minorities. The Mishra report advocated the benefits of reservation to Dalit converts to Christianity and Islam and that religion be disassociated from scheduled caste status in implementing affirmative action. In 2007 the Supreme Court referred the matter back to the Central government , which remains pending. The Pana Christians in Kandhamal have been demanding Scheduled Tribe status.

      Fascisation of Orissa:

      Orissa's population is 36.8 million (census 2001) and Christians are only 2.4% of the state's population. Hindutva mythogises the demise of Hinduism raising the bogey of 'conversion' and creating a fear that Christianity will swamp Hinduism. Hindu cultural dominance organises Hindu nationalism. The Sangh parivar seeks to build a cadre that targets Christians, Muslims, and Dalits. This conflict has been camouflaged as a tribal versus Dalit one; it is essentially the Hinduised tribals enacting violence against Dalit Christians. The RSS has 6000 shakhas in Orissa with 1, 50,000 cadres. It has 391 Saraswati Shishu Mandir schools, with 1,11,000 students preparing for future leadership. Vanvasi Kalyan ashram runs 1,534 projects and schools in 21 adivasi concentrated districts. The sangh has initiated 1200 Ekal Vidyalayas in Orissa. The structure to spread the concept of Hindutva is wide.

      Political Economy of Orissa:

      The Sangh Parivar's agenda is enabled by some staggering inquities in the state. 47.15% of the total population lives in poverty while 57% of the rural population is poor. In Orissa, about 2.5 hectares of irrigated agricultural land is required for a family of five to meet subsistence, while an average family owns about 1.29 hectares. Kashipur, Bolangir and Kalahandi are known for hunger, malnutrition and starvation deaths.

      Timing of the attacks:

      The timing of these anti-Christian attacks is not an accident. With elections around the corner, the Sangh Parivar is striving to cause communal polarization in the society and polity, so that Hindus impacted by the propaganda, would support Hindutva and the BJP. The fact that these attacks have started in end August, almost in tandem, with similar characteristics is clear evidence that these were pre-planned and directed to the same aim: Hindu polarization leading to BJP victories in the coming State and General Elections scheduled for early 2009.


      Recommendations by the team

      For Central Government:
      * A warning under article 355 is not sufficient; the Centre should issue precise directions under Articles 256 and 257 directing the Orissa state government to take necessary action to curb violence expeditiously.
      * Central Government should declare the entire Kandhamal district as an area of communal disturbance and issue directions to the State Government under article 355 for immediate action of the State Government for curbing this internal disturbance.
      * CBI enquiry should be ordered to enquire and investigate the killing of Swami Lakhmananda Saraswati and the violence perpetrated after that.

      For State Government:
      * The State Government should take all necessary immediate steps to bring normalcy to the district of Kandhamal.
      * Preventive arrests as well as FIRs must be lodged so that the perpetrators can be brought to book and speedy trial should be initiated to punish them
      * The Government officials should be booked for the dereliction of their duty and the wilful negligence in protecting the victims and stopping the violence.
      * The impunity being enjoyed by both the Hindutva fundamentalist forces should be cracked by proceeding legally against them.
      * State Government should allow the free entry of civil society and human rights organizations into Kandhamal district to have their assessment and also to help the victims.
      * The State Govt should provide police protection to Churches and institutions and also the areas where Dalit and Tribal Christians live.
      * The Relief camps should be kept going and infact improved in terms of providing adequate and nutritious meals to those who are housed there. Pregnant mothers and children in the camps should be given extra care in the camps. Sanitation and medical facilities should be improved in the camps. Free medical treatment should be provided to those who got injured during the attacks. Special classes should be conducted for children.
      * Confidence building measures should be chalked out by the government before the victims return to their homes.
      * Govt should provide police protection for those who are prepared to go to their places.
      * The damaged and burnt houses should be rebuilt by the government enabling the victims to go there.
      * Extensive and proper damage assessment should be done by the government with the help of civil society organizations and govt should ensure full compensation .
      * Govt should follow the directions given by the Orissa High Court and Supreme Court of India.
      * Govt should ban the entry of the VHP, Bajrang Dal and RSS into Kandhamal district.
      * An all party meeting should be organized to have Peace Committees formed for the State, District, Block and Village levels where civil society organizations should also be included as committee members.
      * The Panchayat heads who were involved in inflicting violence should be brought under the law.
      * A long term strategy should be worked out to render justice to the victims and to promote peace and secularism in Orissa.

      (On behalf of Independent Concerned Citizens' Fact finding Team)
      Contacts: 9968161012 / 9868165471 / 26680883
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