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Kandhamal: Hindutva’s terror


"Before the mob came we heard the sound of people approaching. The sound of hatred. Our lives, our faith, our existence is under attack and neither the neighbours, the police nor the state care." Dalit Christian woman in Kandhamal

"We are waiting for the next riot. We do not know where it will happen but we know that Kandhamal was a warning, not the end." – Christian labour organiser

Event

December 25, 2007: Seven churches, Catholic, Protestant, Pentecostal, independent… burned in Barakhama village, in west Kandhamal/Phulbani district, central Orissa. December 23: Hindutva-affiliated Adivasi organisations organised a march, supported by sangh parivar groups, rallying: ‘Stop Christianity. Kill Christians’. They called for a strike on December 25 and 26, demanding that Dalit Christians be denied scheduled caste status. A Dalit Christian leader from Barakhama testified: "On December 22, hearing of plans to create trouble during Christmas, we went to the local police and informed them of the situation. They assured us that things would be under control. On December 24, in the daytime, we heard voices of Bajrang Dal, VHP, RSS, Shiv Sena people, chanting: ‘Hindu, Hindu, Bhai, Bhai’, ‘RSS Zindabad’, ‘Lakshmanananda Zindabad’. They shut down shops. That night they felled trees to block roads, severed power and phone lines. On the 25th, we went to the inspector in-charge of police again. On the 25th, at 2.30, about 200 of us sat down to Christmas prayer at our church and around 4 p.m. we heard the mob approach."

The mob, about 4,000 persons, many bearing symbolic tilaks, belonged to various sangh parivar groups named above, incited local Hindus into rioting. Estimates state 20 per cent of the mob comprised of people from Barakhama, 80 per cent from surrounding Balliguda, Raikia, Phulbani, as far away as Behrampur. In Barakhama, Christian homes were selected for destruction by the mob, Hindu homes spared. A Dalit Christian woman testified: "They broke the door to our church. We ran. We fell and kept running." Women and men were intimidated and assaulted. Cries of ‘Jai Bajrangbali rent the air. ‘Christians must become Hindu or Die. Kill Them. Kill Them. Kill Them. Gita not Bible. Destroy their Faith.’

The crowd carried rods, trishuls (tridents), swords, kerosene. They used guns, a first in Orissa, weapons available in the market and makeshift local fabrications. Predominantly middle class caste Hindus participated in looting, destroying and torching property. They threw bombs to start the fire. The breakage was systematic, thorough. Women and men hid for days in forests in winter temperatures, later seeking shelter in the Balliguda town relief camp, returning to decimated Barakhama on January 2. Engulfed in soot and sorrow, people attempted to function amid charred remnants. A woman said: "Everything burns down and we are left with nothing. How little our lives are made (of). How alone we are, so far away from everything."

In Balliguda, in one church, furniture was dragged out, lit into a grotesque sculpture. The private violated in public, made spectacle. A Catholic church burnt, opposite the street the fire station witnessed the incident but did not intervene. A cow, dragged from a shed, set afire, was beaten to death, identified as ‘Christian’.

Earlier, on December 23, Hindu activists organised a conversion ceremony for Pastor Digal from Kutikia gram panchayat and 12 members of the Christian community. Pastor Digal was beaten, forcibly tonsured and then paraded naked as he refused to reject Christianity.

On the morning of December 24, at approximately 11 a.m., activists from various Hindutva groups, including Bajrang Dal, VHP, RSS, Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, organised vandalism of Christmas symbols erected on the occasion of Christmas and unleashed turmoil in Brahmanigaon/ Bamunigaon village in central Kandhamal. Some among the 3,000-person mob of Hindutva activists were armed with guns. Reportedly, shots were fired on Christians, wounding two young boys. The Church of Our Lady of Lourdes was decimated. Unarmed police, present near the spot, failed to act. After these events, on December 24, sources state, the car in which Lakshmanananda Saraswati, the influential, octogenarian Hindu proselytiser who was travelling to the site of the incident to organise a yagna to rouse Hindu sentiments against Christmas, was stopped by Christians. The vehicle and driver were knocked around. Saraswati claimed to the press that he had been injured while eyewitness accounts and doctors’ statements contradict this and his own activities point to the contrary. Following Saraswati’s allegations, Hindutva groups called for a 36-hour strike on the evening of December 24. Then followed the violence across Kandhamal, stretching over a three-day period in which Christian communities were attacked by Hindutva groups and their cadre.

It has been stated by members of the Hindu community that Christian display of religiosity, and the economic privilege that allowed for such exhibition, led to the rioting. It has been a focus in the press that Christians in one area in Brahmanigaon responded with violence. It must be noted that Christians in one area did respond with some, not proportionate, violence. In the absence of state action in curbing Hindutva’s aggression, this might have aided the Christian community in checking Hindutva’s violence. It must be noted that Christian retaliation in Brahmanigaon did not endanger bodies but focused on destroying property even while Hindutva’s violence explicitly sought to endanger Christian bodies.

Minority failure to submit to state and majoritarian (by the majority community) subjection becomes a manifestation of ‘evil’. Dominant rationale reduces this to majority vs minority communalism. This position appeals to liberal notions of ‘balance’ and fails to scrutinise state violence (often greater than, and inciting of, group violence). Rather than focus on systematic targeting of Christians, their overwhelmingly peaceful submission to Hindutva’s violence and vast structural injustices and differences in relations of power between majority and minority, the scrutiny appears to be focused on the failure of all Christian groups to simply submit to dominance.

Impunity

Bharatmata ki Jai (Hail to Mother India)’ – Hindu nationalist and militant organisations

Targeted: Balliguda, Brahmanigaon, Barakhama, Bodagan, Chakapad, Daringbari, Goborkutty, Jhinjirguda, Kalingia, Kamapada, Kulpakia, Mandipanka, Nuagaon, Phulbani, Pobingia, Sindrigaon, Ulipadaro villages… Convents and presbytery in Balliguda, Pobingia, Phulbani, Brahmanigaon… Two hostels each in Balliguda, Brahmanigaon, Pobingia. Minor seminary and a vocational training centre in Balliguda. Organisational offices, as that of World Vision, destroyed. Across Kandhamal, approximately 632 (some place the number at 700) Christian homes, 80-95 churches, mostly in villages, and 94-96 institutions were destroyed, vandalised and torched. Homes and institutions were robbed, cash, jewellery, implements, machinery and other valuables looted. A Hindutva mob surrounded Tikabali police station, two jeeps were torched.

In the week following the attacks, hundreds of people were missing. Some remained lost to their families three weeks after the event. Large numbers sought refuge in the nearby forests, including children, women, the elderly, persons with disabilities, including mental illnesses. Some sustained burn and other injuries. Women were molested. Death counts remained inaccurate, the unofficial number of deaths noted at 11, four died under police fire. Following the violence, the administration neither documented the devastation nor participated in its expeditious clean up. The police refused Christians seeking to file FIRs while Hindutva activists filed charges against members of the Christian community. As well, Christians attempting to file FIRs are confronted with Hindu religious symbols ever present in (hostile) public places. The Balliguda relief camp was skeletal, its distribution discriminated against women.

As people returned to rows upon rows of uninhabitable homes, the administration offered people one blanket and a shawl, some clothes, rations. Despite continuing tensions, police presence abated within a week of the riots. Confidence-building steps are absent.

The sangh parivar’s charge that the riots are a part of ethnic violence is contradicted by the timing of the violence. Certain members of sangh parivar organisations, especially the Bajrang Dal, claim in private that some Hindutva activists had come from Gujarat to offer support in Kandhamal. Sangh parivar activists charge that they will resume their attack against the Christian community once the Central Reserve Police Force withdraws, to ‘teach them a lesson’. Immediately following the event, relief, compensation, reparation measures, were incommensurate with the extent of social, psychological and economic losses and segregation experienced by communities.

Judicial inquiry commission

The extent of the violence and coordination of attacks across mountainous terrain lead independent investigators to conclude that the violence was planned, that the police had prior knowledge of Hindutva groups’ intent to riot. The pertinent district collector and superintendent of police have been transferred, not discharged. A Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC) chaired by a former (not sitting) judge has been appointed by the Government of Orissa to investigate the riots. Its power/legitimacy is in question. Its mandate is not binding on the government. The central government did not appoint an inquiry by the CBI, even as it is apparent that the very administration that failed to contain the riots and delayed deploying adequate forces, and whose officials at the district level may have been involved in its execution, cannot administer justice.

It is important to note that Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s celebration of his party’s 10th anniversary coincided with the riots. The celebration had required that large numbers of the state’s police forces be moved out of districts to the state capital, Bhubaneswar. This made it difficult for the police to respond to the emergent situation in Kandhamal on December 24-25. Certain bureaucrats allege that the Orissa government initially directed forces against intervening.

Hindutva activists have lobbied the JIC to organise its terms of reference premised on the claim that an attack on Lakshmanananda Saraswati by Christians in Brahmanigaon propelled the riots which they allege to have been spontaneous. This timeline, as explained above, is falsified.

Hinduisaton of Kandhamal

The Kandhamal riots were not unexpected. The progressive Hindutvaisation of Hindus in Kandhamal has enabled the sangh parivar to act with impunity. Lakshmanananda Saraswati has been overseeing Hinduisation there since 1969. Adivasis, Dalits, Christians, Muslims, are targeted through social and economic boycotts, forced conversions to Hinduism (posed as ‘re’conversion which presupposes that Adivasis and Dalits were ‘originally’ Hindus even while they may/do not self-identify as Hindus) and other violences. The Orissa Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act, 1960 deployed against Muslims; the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, 1967, against Christians. The district witnessed Hindutva’s violence in 1986, followed by the sangh parivar’s growth in the area. An Adivasi sangh leader from Phulbani, a close associate of Lakshmanananda Saraswati and a Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram teacher as well as a self-proclaimed expert at lathi-wielding, echoes the sentiments of colleagues from the Nikhil Utkal Kui Samaj, a sangh-affiliated Adivasi organisation that works in the district: "We are promoting Hindu rituals amongst vanvasis (‘forest dwellers’, derogatory naming of Adivasis) who are all Hindus. Lakshmanananda Saraswati has been a restraining force on the Christians who were doing the conversion work."

Through the Kandhamal riots of 2007, Hindutva’s discourse named Christians as ‘conversion terrorists’. In September 1999, Catholic priest Arul Das was murdered in Jamabani village in Mayurbhanj, followed by the destruction of churches in Kandhamal. In August 2004, Our Lady of Charity Catholic Church was vandalised in Raikia and eight Christian homes burnt. Then too, as this Christian leader stated: "They broke everything in the church, the idols, and burnt the holy book. They burnt some of our houses. The parish priest saw all this helplessly. The people who entered the church were traders and other RSS activists but many were outsiders, maybe from Kattingia, where there is an RSS stronghold. The police were there but did not do anything." The Raikia incident led to the economic and social ghettoisation of the Christian community.

Raikia is proximate to G. Udaigiri town where sangh parivar mobilisations significantly increased between 2000 and 2004. In May 2007, Pastor Pabitra Kumar Kota was beaten. In October 2005, converting 200 Bonda Adivasi Christians to Hinduism in Malkangiri, Saraswati stated: "How will we… make India a completely Hindu country? This is our aim and this is what we want to do. The feeling of Hindutva should come within the hearts and minds of all the people."

In April 2006, celebrating RSS architect Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar’s centenary, the sangh organised the Asthamatruk Rath Yatra, aimed at converting Christians to Hinduism. Saraswati, with VHP and RSS leaders in attendance, was triumphant, as eight chariots, named after female deities, travelled through Orissa carrying sanctified water and soil from a multitude of villages, calling on Orissans to assemble ‘Akhand Hindu Rashtra’. Presided by Saraswati, seven yagnas were held, culminating at Chakapad in Kandhamal district, at the Sammelan attended by 30,000 Adivasis from across the state. Hinduised Adivasis are required to work with both sangh parivar groups and ruling political parties. On April 9, 342 Christians, and on April 10, nine Christians from over 74 families were converted to Hinduism. In September 2007, the VHP organised a road and rail blockade in Orissa, against the supposed destruction of the mythic ‘Ram Setu’ (bridge). Hindutva militants, Praveen Togadia and Subash Chouhan, returned to Orissa, rousing sentiments for Hindutva’s political and spiritual victory. Between July and December 2007, sangh-organised rallies travelled across Kandhamal, raising sentiments against Christians in the district.

Hindutva organisations have charged that Christian conversions in the area and the interventions of Maoist groups led to a spontaneous outburst from Hindus, culminating in the Kandhamal riots of 2007. Maoist groups are not operational in the areas where the violence took place, even as sangh parivar groups have witnessed an upsurge in recent years in those exact areas.

Numbers and rates of conversions to Christianity are inflated by the Hindu Right and circulate in retaliatory capacity even within progressive communities who fixate on such conversions as contributing to the communalisation of society. Christian conversions are storied as debilitating to the majority status of Hindus in Orissa while Muslims are seen as ‘infiltrating’ from Bangladesh, looting livelihood opportunities from residents and dislocating the ‘Oriya (and Indian) nation’. Hindu nationalists place Christians and Muslims in the liminal in-between, as concurrently internal and external to the nation/as enemy. Non-Hinduised Adivasis and Dalits are perceived as ‘unruly’.

Hindutva leaders rumour: ‘Phulbani-Kandhamal is a most important Christian area in Orissa with rampant and forced conversions’. However, the Christian population in Kandhamal district is 1,17,950 while Hindus number 5,27,757. Sangh leaders claim: ‘By the VHP data there are 927 churches in Phulbani district built on illegally taken land’. Church leaders respond that there are 521 churches in the district, on legally acquired church property, and estimate as few as 200-300 consensual conversions and baptism ceremonies annually in Phulbani town with a faintly elevated figure in rural Kandhamal (per the All India Christian Council, AICC, statement of 2005). Many of these churches are administered by the Church of North India, which was inaugurated in Nagpur in 1970 and is registered as a society under the Societies Act XXI of 1860. While few members of certain Christian sects, such as some Pentecostals, may preach in public places, most, such as Catholics, do not. Conversions to Christianity do not occur with the intent to destabilise the Hindu or other communities, and the content and programme of church-based education does not foster communal hatred or divisiveness in thought or deed.

The sangh parivar makes claims that are unsubstantiated – that Christian missionaries (who are mostly of Indian descent) and Muslim traders have caused the destruction of tribal culture and undertaken the illegal acquisition and encroachment of tribal lands since the early 1980s. While the delegitimisation of Adivasi rights to lands and their displacement from customary and communitarian property are serious and righteous grievances, Christian missionaries and Muslim traders are not the primary reason for the land grab and the paucity of land reforms in Orissa. Such rumouring is acceptable to the dominant caste groups, even as general caste land grab is the primary reason for the disenfranchisement-displacement of Adivasis from traditional rights to land. In 1998 there was an agitation for land reforms that did not translate into practical implementation.

The situation is compounded by a decline in the actual number of available employment and income generating opportunities in the area. Kandhamal remains socio-economically vulnerable, with a large percentage of the population living below the poverty line. In addition, 60 per cent of state-operated schools are without teachers while schools operated by Christian organisations are usually available in townships. In a context of disenfranchisement and poverty, and the need to work and the unfeasibility of acquiring employment after basic schooling, the rate of student attrition within Adivasi communities, for example, in G. Udaigiri, is very high at the school level, with only three per cent continuing through completion.

The Christian community too is economically disenfranchised in Kandhamal. A majority of the Christian population, local Christian leaders state, is landless or marginal landholders, with an average holding of half an acre per family. Christian leaders said that the church does not convert under duress or offer money in lieu of conversions. In the 1960s and 70s, when there was a thrust in conversions, Adivasis benefited through accessing health care, education and employment offered by Christian missionaries.

The politicisation of Adivasis and Dalits leads them to claim that Hinduism is distant to them, ‘outside’ to them. This is dangerous to the sangh parivar’s ideology which uses the notion of ‘Adivasis as Hindus’ to connect Hinduism across time in the space named India and ‘Dalits as Hindus’ to maintain its numeric dominance. Politicised Adivasis and Dalits are named ‘terrorist’, ‘Maoist’, ‘militant’. Hindutva rumours that Dalits are exploiting Adivasis and that land is a major contention between them. Dalits are posed as ‘dangerous’, as the claiming of the identity of ‘Dalit’ is a politicisation debilitating to the sangh parivar. (Dalit: Marathi for oppressed or ‘broken’, from the root ‘dal’, which denotes dispersion (symbolic and literal, of those that mistreatment has violated). Term used by Dalit peoples and groups for self-identification in politicised contexts.)

Hindutva rumours that Dalits have acquired economic benefits, augmented by their Christianisation. This is not borne out in reality, as Dalits remain landless – in Kandhamal, approximately 90 per cent of Dalits are landless. Hindutva rumours that the ‘success’ of the Dalit community is causing economic rift in the area and the success of Christian Dalits is causing communalisation. In reality, it is the Hindu casted business community that maintains economic privilege/dominance in the area. Their economic power is however justified in the interest of maintaining and growing the (‘shining’ Hindu/Indian) nation.

In Hinduising Adivasis and polarising relations between them and Dalits in the area, the sangh parivar has engineered rivalries between Kandha Adivasis and Pana Dalit Christians in Kandhamal, instigating against the latter’s campaign for scheduled tribe status. Dalit Christians, under current 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 a Scheduled Caste’ (Ministry of Law and Justice, 2006).

Functioning against the right to freedom of religion, per these provisions, Dalits who convert to Christianity or Islam, Jainism and Zoroastrianism, and other faiths, are divested of scheduled caste status and affirmative action afforded by the state via the ‘reservation’ system for scheduled castes and tribes, and refused benefits granted those that identify as Hindu Dalits. 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.

Discriminated against on the basis of religion, marginalised peoples that discard or function outside Hinduism are barred from equal access to affirmative action that their ethno-cultural and class status allocates. This rejection disregards that benefits reserved for scheduled castes and tribes are premised on feudal, colonial and post-colonial structural mistreatment of such peoples, not religion alone. Religion functions in a Hindu dominant nation as race did under colonial rule, informing hierarchies that define purity and impurity, belonging and un-belonging, ‘norm’ and ‘other’.

State institutions are in internal disagreement over the issue of affirmative action for religious minorities. Responding to a writ petition (No. 180 of 2004) filed by the AICC via the Centre for Public Interest Litigation, the Supreme Court of India asked the Government of India for arguments and guidelines on broadening the assistance of ‘reservation’ to scheduled castes that convert to Christianity. Muslim organisations too have campaigned for the inclusion of Muslim Dalits in diverse forms of affirmative action. The government deferred the issue to the Ranganath Mishra National Commission for Linguistic and Religious Minorities, even while the Commission’s jurisdiction was advisory and did not extend to decision making on such matters. The Mishra Commission’s report was released to the press on May 21, 2007 and its recommendations advocated that the benefits of ‘reservation’ be extended to Dalit converts to Christianity and Islam and that religion be dissociated from scheduled caste status in implementing affirmative action. On July 19, 2007 the Supreme Court referred the matter back to the central (Congress) government for its decision which remains pending.

Fascisation of Orissa

Hindutva mythologises the demise of Hinduism in ‘Hindustan’, legitimating violence as just response, patriotic and pro-national. Majoritarianism (assertions by the majority, here Hindu, community toward acquiring and maintaining social, economic, cultural, political, religious, legal and state-nationalistic power, where majoritarian aspirations are linked to ‘truth’ and ‘freedom’) operates with an explicit mandate to maintain dominance and Hinduise non-Hindus and other marginal and secular groups, including Christians, Muslims, Adivasis and Dalits, with the goal of creating a Hindu state in India. The record of majoritarian group violence against disenfranchised sections of society in India poses a threat to internal peace and security. These communal groups and their affiliates and cadre often operate outside the purview of the law.

The sangh parivar titles itself as an adjunct and/or adversary to the state that offsets governmental failure by dispensing ‘morality’ and ‘progress’ to citizens. The sangh’s governance in Orissa parallels that of the state and collaborates with it. In the last decade, violence against minority groups in Orissa has included social and economic boycotts, forced conversions, intimidation, murder, arson, rape, looting and other extralegal actions. The sangh uses local militarism (as in Kandhamal) as consort to state controlled militarisation (as in Kashipur, where in December 2000, three Adivasis were killed in police firing, and Kalinganagar, where in January 2006, 12 Adivasis and a policeman were killed in police firing).

Hindu cultural dominance organises Hindu nationalism. Orissa amalgamated as a majoritarian/Hindu state between 1866 and 1936, consolidating its position as the earliest linguistic province. The absence of structural reforms and assertion of Hindu elites defines post-colonial governance. The sangh has proliferated into 10,000-14,000 impacted villages through sectarian relief work in the aftermath of the 1999 cyclone that left 10,000 dead.

The sangh parivar seeks to build a cadre comprised of Hindus, men and women, and targets Christians, Muslims, Adivasis and Dalits and other disenfranchised and progressive and secular groups in Orissa. Orissa has a population of 36.8 million (Census 2001). Of this, 7,61,985 – 2.1 per cent – are Muslims. Orissa Christians number 8,97,861 – just 2.4 per cent of the state’s population per the census of 2001 (in 1991, it was 2.1 per cent and in 1981, 1.7 per cent). There are 6.08 million Dalits in Orissa, 16.5 per cent of the population. Adivasis are 8.14 million in number, 22.1 per cent of the population, the largest among all states in India.

The sangh has amassed between 35 and 40 major organisations with numerous branches (including paramilitary hate camps) in 25 districts in Orissa, with a massive base of a few million operating at every level of society, ranging from, and connecting, villages to cities, and Orissa to the ‘Hindu nation’. Conscription into Hindu activism is coordinated through political reform, propaganda/thought control, cultural and religious interventions, developmental/social service and charitable work, sectarian health care, unionisation and revisionist education. The sangh has inaugurated various trusts and branches of national and international institutions in Orissa to aid fund-raising, including the Friends of Tribal Society, Samarpan Charitable Trust, Sookruti, Yasodha Sadan and Odisha International Centre.

The RSS operates 6,000 shakhas in Orissa with a 1,50,000+ cadre. RSS graduates take an oath affirming allegiance to the RSS as national duty: ‘I will devote my body, mind and money (tana, mana, bhana) to the motherland.’ The sangh also hires paid operatives to undertake mob activity. Led by the RSS, Vidya Bharati (known as Shiksha Vikas Samiti in Orissa) directs 391 Saraswati Shishu Mandir schools in Orissa, including in Balangir, Kalahandi, Koraput, Malkangiri, Nabarangpur, Nuapada, Kandhamal and Rayagada districts, with 1,11,000 students preparing for future leadership.

Training camps in Bhadrak and Behrampur aim at Adivasi youth. Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram runs 1,534 projects and schools in 21 Adivasi concentrated districts. The sangh has initiated 1,200 Ekal Vidyalayas in 10 districts in Orissa to target Adivasis. In March 2000, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Biju Janata Dal (BJD) coalition came to power. In October 2002, a Shiv Sena unit in Balasore district formed the first Hindu ‘suicide squad’. The Hindu Suraksha Samiti organises against Muslims. Revolting slogans, ‘Mussalman ka ek hi sthan, Pakistan ya Kabristan (For Muslims there is one place, Pakistan or the grave)’, perforate neighbourhoods.

Political economy

The sangh parivar’s agenda is enabled by the staggering inequities present in the state, where severe social and institutionalised forms of caste, class, gender and heterosexist oppressions and caste, class, gendered and sexualised violence are rampant. Unemployment is on the rise in Orissa and abysmal daily wages prevail; 47.15 per cent of the total population lives in poverty while 57 per cent of the rural population is poor (87 per cent of the state’s population lives in villages currently and per the 2001 census, there are 51,352 villages in Orissa). Among the Adivasi population, 68.9 per cent are poor while 54.9 per cent of Dalits live in need. Among the Muslim population, 70 per cent are poor in Cuttack, Jagatsinghpur and Puri districts, where they are concentrated.

The female to male ratio is a problematic 972 per 1,000 in Orissa and the Human Rights Protection Committee and the Orissa Crime Branch reported that in the last decade (1990-1999) the state has recorded a 460 per cent increase in dowry related deaths relative to the previous decade.

In Orissa, about 2.5 hectares of irrigated agricultural land is required for a family of five to meet subsistence requirements while the average family owns about 1.29 hectares. Women seldom hold joint or individual title to land, which debilitates their ability to independently secure livelihood resources. Additionally, only 21 per cent of all land available for cultivation is irrigated. The cyclone of 1999 and the droughts of 2000 and 2003, the floods of 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2007, have presented overwhelming challenges for the environmental and economic well-being of the state.

In Orissa, efforts at land redistribution and reforms have been insufficient and state and bilateral development, anti-poor and pro-corporatisation politics and practices and the privatisation of resources and development have systematically deprived the poor of rights to decision making over livelihood and survival resources, led to rampant displacement, police brutality and even deaths and denied them their customary rights to public resources such as forests and water.

Recommendations for action in Kandhamal

In Kandhamal, Hindu militant groups, neighbours, the police, the chief minister, the central government, acted with egregious impunity. The activities propagated by Lakshmanananda Saraswati and his followers are of serious concern to the health of society and prompt seditious, anti-minority propaganda and hate actions. The BJD-BJP coalition government in Orissa refuses to honour the constitutional mandate to maintain the separation of religion and state. Political parties, focused on politicking the issue, are ill-equipped to respond to immediate and long-term needs of people. The communal situation in the state remains at par with an emergency. The Government of Orissa has failed to respond to these issues and the serious concerns they pose to democratic governance in the state.

The state government has halted individual relief measures, stating that such action escalates tensions in the area. Church leaders organised to provide relief, which has been targeted as an act of missionising. The police have been reticent to act against Hindutva activists who mobilise Hindu contingents in and around relief camps, or take action against sectarian relief organised in the ‘Hindu Relief Camp’ in Karadavadi village in adjacent Ganjam district. State-organised relief and rehabilitation measures have discriminated against the Christian community and not met local needs.

The state government must provide adequate short-term supplies to the families whose homes have been destroyed. Compensation must match the values of demolished homes and enable people to rebuild and restock their dwellings. Surveys to determine losses must be undertaken collaboratively with local people, rather than ethnocentric treatment of them as a hindrance to the process, as ‘thieves’ intent on profiting from the situation.

Initially, in response to queries, the Orissa state government had claimed that as many as 4,000 trees may have been felled to allow for the blockade of roads and breakdown in communications. According to the forest department, it appears that as few as 351 trees may have been felled. This indicates negligence on part of the state’s ability to respond and points to the frailties in communication and infrastructure networks. Faced with this, the government must undertake the necessary steps to provide adequate security to the Christian community in Kandhamal. The centre and civil society groups must monitor such action.

The CBI must immediately investigate the activities of the Bajrang Dal, VHP and RSS, and apply, as appropriate, relevant provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. Section 2G of the act, ‘unlawful association’ denotes: (1) ‘that which has for its object any unlawful activity, or which encourages or aids persons to undertake any unlawful activity, or through which the members undertake such activity’; or (2) ‘which has for its object any activity which is punishable under Section 153A or Section 153B of the Indian Penal Code 1860 ([Central Act] 45 of 1860) or which encourages or aids persons to undertake any such activity; or of which the members undertake any such activity’.

The status, actions and finances of communal groups and their affiliates and cadre, and the actions of their membership must be identified and investigated. These groups must be investigated and monitored, and, as appropriate, requisite action must be taken and sanctions be imposed on their activities, and reparations be made retroactively to the affected communities and individuals.

Certain organisations, such as the VHP and Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, have been registered as charity organisations. As their work appears to be political in nature, they should be audited and recognised as political organisations. A serious concern is whether the activities of these fall within the objectives of a trust; whether in fact these organisations should have been registered as social trusts given the nature of their activities; whether the monies collected are indeed used for the purposes for which they were collected; and whether illegal and political activities are being carried out in the name of social work. Given these concerns, the charitable status and the rights and privileges enjoyed by these groups must be reviewed.

The right of individuals to undergo religious conversions is constitutionally authorised, unless under duress. Historically, conversions from Hinduism to Christianity or Islam have occurred for multiple reasons, such as being a form of resistance among the elite and as a way to escape caste oppression and social stigma for Adivasis and Dalits. Societal or Hindu ‘feelings’ about conversions to Christianity or Islam does not render these conversions inappropriate, invalid or illegal. It is only in circumstances where conversions occur coercively or are undertaken with the intent of mobilising a culture of hate, as, for example, undertaken by Hindutva activists, that conversions must be disallowed.

It must be noted that ‘reconversion’ strategies of the sangh parivar appear to be shifting in Orissa. In Kandhamal, for example, public and exhibitionist conversion ceremonies that particularly targeted (primarily Dalit and Adivasi) Christian community members and non-Christian Adivasis, forcing them to submit to Hinduism, have been fewer in number in 2007 than between 2004 and 2006. Converting politicised Adivasi and Dalit Christians to Hinduism is proving difficult for the sangh parivar. The outcry against such ceremonies from the Christian community and certain human rights groups might have influenced a shift. The sangh parivar has instead increased its emphasis on the Hinduisation of Adivasis by making them a part of Hindu rituals and ceremonies (as during the Sammelan) which, in effect, ‘convert’ Adivasis into Hinduism by assuming that they are Hindu. Such ‘conversion’ tactics are diffused and no longer have to negotiate certain legalities which public and stated conversion ceremonies did. On converting/’reconverting’ to Hinduism, Adivasis are expected to join Hindu caste society as Sudras, a ‘higher’ placement than Dalits in the caste hierarchy, sangh activists say.

Dalit Christians are doubly discriminated against, as Dalits and as Christians. Post-Hinduisation, Adivasis are being mobilised against Christian groups. Adivasis are incited into targeting Dalit Christians, both fomenting Adivasi-Dalit divides and vitiating the historical solidarities between them. This is crucial to Hinduisation. It also acts to warn non-Christian Dalits against conversion to Christianity.

The Hindutvaisation of the Hindu community, and Hinduisation of the secular, allows the sangh’s escalation. This process unfolded in Brahmanigaon, for example, where the growth of the business community has supported the rise of the sangh parivar. Hindutva conversions served to terrorise the Adivasi and Dalit community, via which the sangh parivar achieved its preliminary expansionist goals. While ceremonial conversions continue sporadically, a more protracted and dispersed strategy of Hinduisation through incorporation and assimilation is aggressively pursued as effective methodology.

The Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, 1967 must be repealed. Provisions for preventing and prohibiting conversions that commence under duress and coercion already exist under the Indian Penal Code (IPC). There is no basis for the existence of a separate law, especially one that sets draconian parameters and has been used by communalists to target and prohibit voluntary conversion within minority, especially Christian, communities. The Orissa Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act, 1960 too should be repealed. Provisions for preventing and prohibiting cruelty to animals already exist under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 and there is no basis for the existence of a separate law, especially one which is utilised to intervene on the livelihood practices of economically disenfranchised groups with detrimental effects, such as among Adivasis, Dalits and Muslims, who engage in cattle trade and cow slaughter.

Postscript

The Kandhamal riots story betrayal, indifference, negligence – of nation, government, humanity, disregard for law and order, gendered violence enacted with impunity. ‘Minorities’ and other disenfranchised are denied self-determination. The state endows the ‘victor’, the hegemon named ‘majority’.

The Kandhamal riots of 2007 barely registered in the nation’s memory. Muslims targeted in the Bhadrak riots of 1991 still await justice in Orissa. The history of state accountability in preventing and administering justice in instances of majoritarian violence is frail. The incapacity of the Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, 2005, introduced in the Parliament of India in December 2005 and approved by the union cabinet in March 2007, attests to this. The bill, advocated by citizen motivated efforts for the prevention of genocide and crimes against humanity, in its official formulation as introduced by the Congress government, remained deficient in defining procedures for state and public answerability. It failed to address issues of negligence displayed by state authorities in preventing and controlling communal violence, and in disbursing timely and just compensation and psychosocial rehabilitation, as well as establishing parameters for witness protection and for soliciting and recording victim testimonies. It failed to chart measures to bring justice and accountability with regard to gender and sex-based crimes in the event of communal violence (which is not effectively addressed by the IPC or separate legislation), and in imposing checks and balances on the state and its police and security forces, whose inertia and majoritarianist complicity in communal collisions have been consistent.

In 2003, Subash Chouhan, then state convenor of the Bajrang Dal, had stated: "Orissa is the second Hindu Rajya (to Gujarat). Whatever happens here, say politics happens, it will have to be Hindutva politics, with Hindutva’s consent." In December 2007, Narendra Modi, Gujarat chief minister, in command over police and law enforcement machinery and as such culpable for the participation of the Gujarat government in the genocide of 2,000 Muslims, was re-elected. On December 31, 2007, Prasant, upper caste RSS worker in Orissa, stated: "Gujarat remains the guiding light for Hindutva and our conscience as Hindus." Recent atrocities in Kandhamal confirm his assertion. n

(Angana Chatterji is associate professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology at California Institute of Integral Studies and author of the forthcoming book, Violent Gods: Hindu Nationalism in India’s Present. Narratives from Orissa, Three Essays Collective, 2008.)

Note:

Readers will notice certain statistical and other discrepancies in the two reports on the violence in Orissa’s Kandhamal district. A possible explanation for this is the time-lag between the two pieces. The preliminary report by the fact-finding team was brought out within days of the violence whereas Angana Chatterji’s piece was written some weeks later.

Given the nature and inaccessibility of the terrain as well as the current status quo in Orissa, exact figures will probably not be available until some time later.

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