By Vatican News staff reporter
The National Solidarity Forum (NSF) of India has announced the creation of Kandhamal Human Rights Awards for activists and groups on the occasion of the August 25 Kandhamal Day, Wednesday, in commemoration of one of the worst violence against Christians in India that erupted in the eastern state of Odisha 13 years ago.
The NSF has instituted two annual awards in honour of the victims and survivors of the mass violence against Adivasi [indigenous] and Dalit [marginalized] Christians of Kandhamal and several other districts in Odisha, and in some other states including Karnataka, in August-September 2008.
The award to an individual carries a cash prize and a plaque. The award for non-governmental organizations and groups recognizes long and sustained work on issues of human rights and civil liberties, development, harmony and peace building, NSF convenor Dr Ram Puniyani said. The awardees will be announced soon.
National Solidarity Forum
The National Solidarity Forum is a national level platform of over 70 organizations and activists, media persons, researchers, legal experts, film-makers, artists, writers and scientists, which emerged after the Kandhamal violence. Formed in May 2010, the Forum works on various issues relating to trauma, counselling, rehabilitation and advocacy for justice to victims of organized violence. NSF has been commemorating Kandhamal Day on August 25 every year with events in Kandhamal, Bhubaneswar, New Delhi and other places.
The 2020 event, held online due to the pandemic, featured human rights activists and senior noted civil society personalities discussing the challenges faced by marginalized communities with particular emphasis on the right to life, livelihood and the freedom of religion and belief.
Wednesday’s commemoration of Kandhamal Day and the awards function will also be in virtual mode. A national webinar has been organized on the theme, “In Defence of Human Rights and Democratic Freedoms”. It will feature personalities such as former Chairman of the National Law Commission and Chief Justice of Delhi High court, AP Shah, former Chief Election Commissioner, S Y Qureshi, and the noted film and literature personality Javed Akhtar. Among other participants are Bhasha Singh, Dr Ruth Manorama, Dr Aruna Gnanadason, Dayamani Barla, Henri Tiphagne, and Dr John Dayal.
The murder of Hindu leader Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati and four of his disciples on August 23 triggered the 2008 violence. Even though Maoist rebels claimed the assassination, Hindu extremists blamed it on Christians. Two days later on August 25, hell broke loose on the Christians of Odisha, with Kandhamal district as the epicentre of the atrocities, which continued unabated for months. Ironically, it started 10 days after India’s Independence Day.
Odisha’s Christians had earlier faced similar violence, but to a much lesser scale, during Christmas of 2007, which observers say was a rehearsal for the carefully orchestrated atrocities that were to follow 8 months later.
“In independent India’s chequered history, the violence in the Kandhamal and adjoining districts of Odisha in 2007 and 2008 stands out for malevolent targeting of the Christian minorities, Dalits, Adivasis, women and Children were violated with impunity,” said a press release by the NSF.
It noted that over 100 Christians were killed, several of them from the clergy, and over 75,000 were displaced. More than 360 churches, places of worship and educational, social service and health institutions were destroyed and looted. The education of 12,000 children was disrupted and over 40 women were raped, molested and humiliated, including a Catholic nun. Several cases of forced conversion to Hinduism were also reported.
The NSF cited a study conducted by Supreme Court advocate Vrinda Grover and law professor Dr. Saumya Uma, which found the conviction rate as low as 5.13% of the cases brought to court. “If one takes complaints as a yardstick of the justice process, it is just around 1% only,” the NSF press statement said.
“Kandhamal violence is a unique case of multiple violations of basic human rights and dignity of the most vulnerable groups. Justice is yet to be done and rights to be restored,” the NSF added.