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Survivors of anti-Christian riot seek Indian president's help

President can intervene and ensure justice, they say
Survivors of anti-Christian riot seek Indian president's help

In this October 2008 photo, an Indian Christian family returns to their house, which was damaged during rioting by hardline Hindu activists in Odisha state's Kandhamal district. (Photo by Deshakalyan Chowdhury/AFP)

Published: September 02, 2015 08:17 AM GMT
Updated: September 02, 2015 12:52 AM GMT

Survivors of an anti-Christian riot in eastern India have sought President Pranab Mukherjee's intervention for justice saying the state has failed to punish the guilty and  compensate for losses seven years after the deadly violence.

"We are approaching the president because he is the head of state," Father Ajay Kumar Singh, a rights activist who works with survivors of the riots, told ucanews.com Sept. 2.

"The president has constitutional powers to intervene and ensure justice for citizens," he said. "We hope he will exercise his powers to help our hapless people."

An official memorandum was sent to the president's office Aug. 31, when thousands demonstrated to mark the anniversary of the riot in Odisha state's Kandhamal district. Some 5,000 people marched through the district's main Raikia town demanding justice for victims.

The 2008 anti-Christian violence engulfed more than 600 villages and killed more than 90 people, including disabled and elderly people, children and women. Some 350 churches and 6,500 houses were looted and burned down, making 56,000 people homeless, according to the memorandum sent to the president's office.

The "shoddy investigation" of the police and "intimidation of the witnesses" resulted in most of those charged being acquitted. This "has led people to losing faith in the justice system", it said while also demanding a judicial enquiry by the Supreme Court into all 3,330 riot-related complaints lodged at police stations.

Women join a protest march Aug. 31 in Odisha state's Kandhamal district to seek justice for riot victims. (Photo by Santhosh Digal)



The violence was "engineered, directed, instigated and operationalized" by right-wing groups backed by some political parties, asserted the memorandum prepared by Kandhamal Nyaya Shanti O Sadbhabana Samaj, an organization of survivors and civil society leaders fighting for redress.

During the riots, crimes including "rapes were carried out in front of police personnel and some of the police officers belonging to Christian communities were instructed to take no action". This meant that government officials acquiesced to the violence, the organization said while demanding punishment for erring officials.

The anti-Christian rioting was sparked by the gunning down in Aug. 23, 2008 of a Hindu spiritual leader, Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, 85, and four of his associates. Hindu extremists blamed Christians for the murders even though Maoists at that time had claimed responsibility for the deaths.

The killings unleashed a reign of terror the following day that lasted for four months. The state had also witnessed an earlier round of anti-Christian violence during Christmas 2007.

Father Singh said a survey shows that property worth 900 million rupees (some US$14 million) was damaged but that compensation given so far was only 7 million rupees. He said the president's intervention was required in dispensing adequate compensation to victims.

The memorandum also wanted the government to rehabilitate survivors, compensate churches and rebuild church-run institutions such as schools.

Meanwhile, the Orissa Bishops' Regional Council has decided to observe “Kandhamal Martyrs Day" every year to remember those killed in the riots seven years ago.

They were killed because of their faith and the observation will begin next year, the bishops said.

"The lives of those who were killed will inspire the Christian community at large,” Archbishop John Barwa of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, which covers Kandhamal, told ucanews.com Sept. 2.


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