In India, tribunal says state government failed to protect Christians

December 14, 2011

BHUBANESWAR, India

An independent tribunal investigating anti-Christian violence in India’s eastern Orissa state in 2008 has indicted the state government for failure to protect Christians and has made several recommendations.

“[Government] officials have played a variety of negative roles during the violence, ranging from being silent spectators and bystanders to the violence [to] refusing to protect or assist the victim-survivors even in the context of brutal killings,” wrote the jury of the National People’s Tribunal on Kandhamal.

The tribunal’s final report was released Dec. 2 at Orissa’s capital, Bhubaneswar, in the presence of more than 1,000 people, including social activists, Christian clergy and hundreds of victims of the violence in Kandhamal, about 300 kms from Bhubaneswar.

The jury also charged the Orissa police with “complicity” in the violence that engulfed the remote jungle region of Kandhamal in August 2008 following the killing of Hindu leader Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati.

Though Maoist rebels claimed responsibility for Saraswati’s murder, Hindu fundamentalist groups alleged that the murder was a Christian conspiracy. In the widespread violence that went on unabated for weeks, more than 100 Christians were killed, and 300 churches and 6,000 houses were looted and burned, rendering over 56,000 people homeless.

The 200-page document, titled “Waiting for Justice,” also expressed “deep concern that the criminal justice system has been rendered ineffective in protecting victim survivors and witnesses, providing justice and ensuring accountability for the crimes perpetrated.”

“The government officials and police are duty bound to protect the people when in danger. But in Kandhamal, they sided with the perpetrators,” said Vrinda Grover, a lawyer in the federal supreme court and one of the dozen jury members.

“If the government had taken necessary precaution, most of the violence could have been prevented,” pointed out retired high court judge Michael F. Saldana, a Catholic.

The jury made a series of recommendations including impartial retrial of closed cases, meaningful compensation for losses and rehabilitation programs and urgent steps to uphold freedom of religion in Orissa.

Addressing the challenges that lay ahead, Ram Puniyani, a Hindu and convenor of the tribunal, told a seminar on the tribunal verdict that “the report is ready. But don’t think our work is over. It only begins now.”

“I do not know when I will get justice,” Komal Digal, who lost property worth 1.5 million rupees ($29,000), but received compensation of 20,000 rupees ($390), told ENInews.

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