By Robin Gomes
The Catholic Church of eastern India’s Odisha state organized a meeting on Saturday to assess the state of justice and compensation with regard to the victims and survivors of the terrible anti-Christian violence in the state more than 10 years ago.
About 3,000 survivors of the violence of Christmas 2007 and August 2008 and thereafter, together with Catholic Church authorities, lay leaders and rights activists gathered on Jan. 12 in Raikia town of Odisha’s Kandhamal district that was the epicentre of the outrage.
Hell broke loose on the Christians of Kandhamal on August 25, 2008, after Hindu extremists blamed Christians for the August 23 murder of Hindu leader Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati, even though Maoist rebels claimed the assassination.
The Justice, Peace and Development Commission of the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar under whose jurisdiction comes Kandhamal district, organized the Raikia meeting. It was attended, among others, by local Archbishop John Barwa, senior Supreme Court advocate Colin Gonsalves, Thomas Minze, president of the "All India Catholic Odisha" association and several lawyers, priests, activists and lay leaders.
Those present reiterated their approach to peace, justice and human dignity, noting the urgency of compensation for those whose homes were completely damaged by the wave of violence.
Father Ajaya Kumar Singh is the secretary of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Odisha Bishops’ Regional Council (OBRC). The priest of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar Archdiocese who was at the Raikia meeting spoke to Vatican News about it.
Fr. Singh said that ten years after the violence, the victims, their families and survivors still await justice. In addition, 7 Adivasi Dalit (indigenous of low cast origin) Christians who were falsely accused of the murder of Lakshmanananda, are behind bars for the last 10 years under life imprisonment. On the contrary, not a single person who committed “heinous crimes” such as murder, gang rape, arson, looting and destruction of churches and homes, is behind bars. Besides, Fr. Singh said, there is also a huge amount of intimidation and threat against justice and the Christians.
A 2016 ruling by the Supreme Court of India had ordered compensation to the victims and survivors of the violence but Fr. Singh said it is not going the way they are expecting. Those who have been denied or not enlisted for compensation are running from office to office without any result.
Another major Supreme Court verdict ordered the re-opening of 315 cases of violence and injustice against the Christians of Kandhamal. The priest lamented that not a single case has been re-opened so far. This shows the apathy, indifference and mockery of the country’s apex court by both the state and union governments.
Death and damages
Fr. Singh pointed out that the 2007 and 2008 violence on Christians was the worst in past 300 years in India. Hundreds of innocent people were killed or injured in the violence, nearly 7000 homes were reduced to ashes and 395 churches were demolished. This went on for 6 to 7 months but what Fr. Singh regrets most is that 10 years after the violence, people still haven’t been able to return to their homes and villages.
The priest drew some hope from last month’s Supreme Court life sentence to a man for crimes in the notorious 1984 anti-Sikh violence that erupted following the assassination of then Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, by her two Sikh bodyguards. Fr. Singh said that the sentence after 34 years gives hope to the survivors of Kandhamal violence, and they gathered in Raikia on Jan. 12 to see how they can obtain justice.