Memories of Orissa carnage still a burden
After five years, real justice is yet to catch up with those behind the Kandhamal tragedy
Scholars, activists, churches and others working to defend India's secular credentials met in New Delhi on Thursday to chalk out plans to mark the fifth anniversary of the 2008 violence in Orissa's Kandhamal district.
Suggestions were made to stage a rally in Bhubaneswar, a seminar in Delhi, a national roaming exhibition and the launch of a website to explain the events of the anti-Christian rampage.
It was months before the smoke finally lifted from the hills and valleys of Kandhamal in 2008. When it did, over 400 villages had been purged of all Christians; more than 5,600 houses and 296 churches had been burnt to a cinder and perhaps as many as a 100 killed (the government admits to a total of 56).
Thousands were injured, women raped, including a nun, and 56,000 men, women and children rendered homeless.
Sikhs and Muslims have faced similar ordeals in 1984 (Delhi) and 1992 and 2002 (Mumbai and Gujarat). They are still looking for justice, with an occasional triumph in the Supreme Court.
Christians of Kandhamal take some hope from them in their pursuit of justice.
Investigations have been tardy and superficial – one junior officer and two inspectors head the small team trying to probe the vast number of cases with primitive forensic equipment and almost no training in probing cases of mass violence.
There has been no attempt by the Directorate of Prosecutions or by the police to upgrade cases where victims died of their injuries, not on the spot, but in hospital, refugee camps or other places.
Cutting through the fog created around the legal data, the following is the current situation of the criminal investigation into cases of arson and murder, abduction and violence.
Present Legal Status:
Victims filed 3,232 criminal complaints when the dust settled on the “Second Phase” violence that began on 24th August 2008 and after peaking by about 30 August, continued sporadically through most of September and October that year.
But the Kandhamal district police acknowledge less than half of them or only 1,541 complaints. However, they did not file them as First Information Reports (FIRs) which are required under Indian Criminal law.
Of those, only 828 complaints were actually converted to FIRs, which mark the beginning of further investigation and the case being brought before a court for trial after a charge-sheet is filed.
Finally, only 327 cases have actually seen the completion of the investigation process with the cases committed to the two Fast Track Courts headed by two ad hoc Additional District Judges for day-to-day hearings.
Of the finalized cases, in 169 cases, all the accused have been acquitted, 86 cases have ended with convictions -- not for the heinous crimes mentioned in the FIRs, but for comparatively minor offenses meriting only prison terms of two or three years.
Some 90 cases are still in the process of being tried.
In all, 1,597 suspects have been acquitted. This does not include the thousands who could not be arrested, and therefore could not be brought to trial.
These statistics do not reflect the justice that Kandhamal survivors and victims deserve. It is time that Indian polity revisited and re-looked at the facts to secure justice for Kandhamal.
Ajay Kumar Singh is Catholic priest and social activist based in Orissa capital Bhubaneswar and works to bring justice and help the victims since the days of violence in 2008.
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