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Kandhamal Documentary Demands Justice to Riot- Affected

The film on the verdict on the August 2008 communal violence against Christians in Odisha, questions why the perpetrators are having a field day while innocent victims suffer.
Kandhamal Documentary

“Because of a fraudulent verdict, seven innocents have been languishing in jail for a decade, while the perpetrators of the carnage-- the Sangh Parivar is remaining unscathed, and flourishing and surging ahead. While the judiciary remains a mute spectator to this travesty of justice”, journalist Anto Akkara, who has been striving for justice and closure for the victims of the Kandhamal riots which rocked the nation in 2008, said.

Akkara was speaking at a programme organised by the Delhi Minorities Commission to speak out against the injustice meted out to the victims of the communal carnage against Christians in which more than 100 of the community were brutally killed, 56,000 lost their homes and livelihood, and 300 churches were vandalised or razed to the ground. The occasion was the release of the Hindi version of the documentary “Release Seven Innocents” titled, Qaid Mein Bekasoor (Innocent and in Jail) .

A Compromised Verdict, and Communalised Funeral

At the very outset, Akkara questioned – why did the judgement rendered by Judge R.K. Tosh dated September 30, 2013 open with a reference to “Vedanta Kesari” Swami Laxminananda, who championed Hindu majoritarianism all through the years of his stay for years in the Kandhamal region, did so? No Hindu or Hindutva group had bestowed on him that title, so then how did it find its way into the judgement?”, he asked.

Akkara went on to question other evidence which the judge had relied on in order to convict the seven, one of whom is mentally challenged. He said that “surprisingly, two years after this conviction, the same police officers who had ensured the conviction of the innocent Christians told the Justice Naidu Commission of Enquiry that the much trumpeted ‘Christian conspiracy’ theory was baseless”.

The killing of the 81-year-old Swami Laxminananda was carried out by Maoists, but Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Praveen Togadia and other leaders of the Sangh Parivar, who defied even curfew norms to take out a funeral procession on a much longer circuitous route, in order to drum up Hindu communal frenzy against Christians, most of whom were from the Scheduled Caste or Adivasi communities, were responsible for the spate of violence, he  said.

Akkara also questioned the role of India Foundation, a BJP and RSS- funded think tank, and that of current Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, in promoting two books of dubious provenance which laboured hard to lend credence to the theory that the killing of the Swami was a conspiracy hatched by the then Congress Government (involving Sonia Gandhi, a Catholic) with the tacit support of the Pope.

But why is the judiciary so somnolescent, he asked? Why is the Orissa High Court not hearing the appeals?

Parallels with Gujarat, Muzaffarnagar Communal Violence

Apoorvanand, a Delhi University Professor who helped in bringing out the Hindi version of Akkara’s documentary, said it would be incorrect to say that injustice was perpetrated 10 years ago, because it is continuing even now, with seven innocent Christians convicted and jailed because of a the Hindutva forces’ conspiracy and vast influence.

“The killing of the Swami , and the occasion for an elaborate, even violent funeral procession was just a ruse to trigger communal violence. It was the same strategy that the Sangh Parivar members used in Godhra, and in Muzaffarnagar, where a fake video was made to go viral to drum up vicious communal frenzy against Muslims” he said, adding  that as long as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh remains in dominant position, such incidents are bound to recur. “We should not look for “reasons” for communal riots -- the real reason is the existence and the thriving of the Sangh Parivar”, he said.

Apoorvanand went on to say that “ if we do not vote with our conscience in the 2019 elections, if we do not stand with our brothers and sisters hailing from the minority communities, be they Christian or Muslim, then we would end up forfeiting the very idea of India”.

Sister Anastasia Gill, who was the convenor of the programme and its principal organiser, exhorted everyone present to stand not only with religious minorities, but all those from the marginalised communities-- especially the Dalits and Adivasis, whose land and livelihoods were being snatched away. Focusing her attention on the Kandhamal victims, she protested against the measly compensation the government has given only to a tiny fraction of the riot- affected, and urged everyone to crusade for those thousands who have been left completely in the lurch.

The writer is an independent journalist based out of Delhi, and specialises in reporting on legal, human rights and gender issues. He earlier used to teach media law and jurisprudence in Bombay and Pune. He tweets @SauravDatta29

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