Kandhamal: The Law Must Change its Course (download PDF)

This book critically examines the patterns of impunity as they unfold in Kandhamal. There is today a vibrant debate seeking legal reform to ensure accountability for mass crimes by extending culpability to those who sponsor and profit from the carnage. Rooted in the firm belief that without justice there can be no peace, this book seeks to contribute to the effort to forge new legal tools to alter patterns of continuing injustice and rampant impunity.

PREFACE: It takes approximately five to six hours travel by road to reach Kandhamal from Bhubneshwar, the capital of Orissa. A remote and barely known district of Orissa, it received national and international attention on account of the anti Christian violence of 2007 and again in August 2008. On my first visit to Kandhamal, what struck me was the abject poverty of the majority of its population. The Dalit Christians Panas and the Kandha tribals both counted amongst the poorest and most marginalized citizens. It is a shame that after 60 years of Independence, it is not development, growth and prosperity that have made an impact upon their lives, but hatred and communal prejudice.

In April 2009, I visited the Phulbani fast track courts set up to adjudicate cases related to the Kandhamal anti Christian violence. A senior member of the Phulbani Bar admonished me for doing so, stating that it was ‘outsiders’ like me who were causing trouble. He also suggested I visit the interior Blocks to see for myself that normalcy had returned to Kandhamal. I did as he advised and traveled to a few blocks. I found that almost a year later the Christian community continued to seek refuge in derelict relief camps or lived as outcasts on the fringe of villages. As they tried to cope with loss, they also faced an uncertain future due to a socio-economic boycott against them; and remained fearful of impending attacks. Has the Indian polity come to regard second class citizenship for religious minorities as the normal state of affairs? Has the guarantee of equal citizenship for all regardless of religion, caste, sex etc. inscribed in the Indian Constitution been abandoned in Kandhamal? The photographs appearing in this book were taken during this trip. They bear silent testimony to the real meaning of the ‘normalcy’ and ‘peace’ that supposedly prevails in Kandhamal.

The tragedy of Kandhamal is that the attack on the Christian community did not surprise anyone and further more, that the subsequent failure of the legal system to accord justice to the victim-survivors was predictable. Despite warning signals that concerted communal mobilization was underway for
almost two decades in Orissa, no preventive measures were taken to secure life and property. Perhaps governance was guided by lessons learnt from India’s contemporary history - one of which appears to be that communal killings are expected to pay rich electoral dividends. The failure of the criminal justice system to punish those who planned the killing and destruction in Kandhamal has left a deep sense of injustice and discrimination. The state’s failure to provide adequate reparation to the victim-survivors and their cruel abandonment has deepened this alienation.

The Nellie massacre of 1983; the anti Sikh pogroms of 1984; the Bhagalpur riots of 1989; the anti Muslim violence in Mumbai in 1992; the genocidal attack on the Muslims of Gujarat in 2002; and now the Kandhamal attack on Christians, indicates that mass crimes committed with overt or covert State sanction, pose a grave challenge to the secular, pluralist idea of India.

This book critically examines the pattern of impunity as it continues to unfold in Kandhamal. Civil society in India urgently requires to debate legal reforms on accountability for mass crimes. The claim to ‘civilisation’ by any society is dependent above all, on the degree to which it ensures the dignity of its citizens, and their equality in the eyes of the law. That is why it is essential to extend culpability to those who sponsor and profit from such acts. This publication seeks to contribute to the effort to forge new legal tools to alter this pattern of continuing injustice and rampant impunity. It is rooted in the firm belief that without justice there can be no peace.

Vrinda Grover
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Also see: http://dilipsimeon.blogspot.in/2011/12/barefoot-remembering-kandhamal.html

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