India’s Minority Christians Seek Justice Seven Years After Deadly Riots

By Nita Bhalla 9 September 2015

NEW DELHI — Survivors of some of the worst anti-Christian violence in India in recent times have appealed to the president for help, accusing the state of failing to provide adequate justice and compensation seven years on from the deadly communal attacks.

Clashes between Hindus and minority Christians erupted in Kandhamal, a rural district in the eastern state of Odisha, in August 2008 after the murder of a Hindu religious leader.

According to the Kandhamal Committee for Peace and Justice, more than 90 people, largely Christians, were killed and 56,000 people displaced. The government says the death toll was 38.

Despite the thousands of complaints of physical and sexual assault, destruction of property, theft and intimidation made by victims, say activists, few have been registered by police and even fewer have resulted in convictions.

“Justice has eluded us,” Father Ajay Singh of the Kandhamal Committee for Peace and Justice told a news conference on Tuesday. “After knocking on every door within the state government, we found no one willing to come forward to secure justice for the victims of Kandhamal.”

Singh said the committee met President Pranab Mukherjee on Monday to plead for all cases to be reopened and for more compensation.

“He gave us a patient hearing and said that he will bring the issues before the government to see what could be done,” said Singh.

The group said that only 827 out of 3,232 complaints were registered by police at the time, and that 273 of these cases were then thrown out due to a lack of evidence as witnesses were scared to come forward and no protection was afforded to them.

Only 33 cases have reached a judgment and most of those convicted for crimes such as murder are out on bail, it added.

The communal violence—sparked by the murder of Swami Laxmanananda, a leader of the hardline Hindu group Vishwa Hindu Parishad—drew international condemnation at the time, including from Pope Benedict.

While both groups were involved in the violence, say human rights activists, Christians bore the brunt of the attacks.

Research conducted by the Kandhamal Committee for Peace and Justice found that over 6,500 homes and 395 churches and places of worship were looted, gutted and razed to the ground.

As a result, 56,000 poor tribal and low-caste Christians lost their homes and livelihoods and were displaced. Some 10,000 people have still not returned to their villages fearing revenge attacks, say campaigners.

Government officials deny charges of neglecting Christian victims or being influenced by powerful Hindu groups.

“Everybody has returned back home,” Yamini Sarangi, Kandhamal’s administrative chief, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Whoever was a victim was given financial assistance as per the state norms during that time. Nothing is pending here.”