The following is a press release issued by a fact-finding team which visited Kandhamal district of Orissa on September 22:
A fact-finding committee of 16 human rights activists from Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Orissa toured the violence affected parts of Kandhamal district during the last two days to ascertain the factual details and the background concerning the wide spread events of arson, looting and murder aimed at the Christian people.
The team consisted of Dr. B. Ramulu, K. Balagopal, V.S. Krishna, V. Vasantha Laxmi, K. Murali, Rathnam, Shaik Khadar Baba (Human Rights Forum-HRF-Andhra Pradesh), V. Chitti Babu, V.V. Balakrishna, G. Raghuram, N. Srimannarayana and P. Venkata Rao (Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee-APCLC), Prof. A. Marx, (People Union for Human Rights, PUHR, Tamil Nadu), K.Kesavan, (Centre for Protection of Civil Liberties CPCL-Tamil Nadu), Prof. N. Babaiah, (People's Democratic Forum-PDF-Karnataka) and Debaranjan Sarangi, Social Activist, Orissa.
The team visited the relief camps at Darangabadi and G. Udayagiri. In addition we spoke to people of Baliguda, Brahmanigaon, Midiakia, Budrukia, Damikia, Jugapadar (Nuvagam), Lakebadi, Raikia, Kattingia and G.Udayagiri.
Before we begin a narration of the state of affairs, we must strongly condemn the attitude of the administration which is preventing anyone from meeting the inmates of the camps. Because of this we could spend only a short time at the camps of Darangabadi and G. Udayagiri. The situation we found in G. Udayagiri illustrates why the attitude of the administration is condemnable. The camp is located in tents put up on open ground which has become muddy in the continuous rains. The people are forced to sit on the water logged ground. We found pigs and other animals roaming around the place where food was being cooked. There is every likelihood of infections breaking out any day in this camp. When we spoke about this to the Relief Commissioner (southern region) Shri Satyabratha Sahu over telephone, he gave the unacceptable answer that other communities are objecting to the establishment of relief camps in pucca public buildings. Since these other communities are responsible for the Christians being reduced to refugees in their own land, their objection cannot be a consideration at all. But this is symptomatic of the way the administration is handling the violence.
From the very first day after killing of Lakshmanananda Saraswathi, there have been prohibitory orders in force in the whole of Kandhamal district. All the arson and murders took place during the prevalence of these prohibitory orders. It appears that the prohibitory orders were only useful to prevent the victims from assembling to protect themselves. They were never enforced against the large mobs of assailants. The marks of assaults could be seen in the burnt houses, church and other structures all along the road from Baliguda to G,Udayagiri and elsewhere.
As the administration well knows, the attacks continued to take place even after deployment of para-military forces and assurance given by the State government to the Supreme Court. A series of villages were attacked as recently as 18 September in the Raikia block and even as we were talking to people of Raikia information reached them that the Bajrang Dal planned to attack Sugudbadi, Padunbadi, Gundhami, Gamandi and Sisapanga. Even from other sources we have heard that large scale attacks are likely to take place today (22-9-2008). May be this is a precursor to tomorrow's programme that is the Kalash Yatra of the slain VHP leader. We have drawn the attention of the DIG of police southern range to this fact and though he assured us that the administration would give all necessary protection, given the fate of complaints made by the victims in the last one month there is reason of apprehension.
We were told by many of the victims that whenever they have given complaints to the local police station the response has been lukewarm. Even when specific names were mentioned, the FIRs were registered against unidentified persons. Even when information about an imminent attack has been given the SHO has not responded with a sense of urgency. These cannot be dismissed as imaginary complaints because the same people have appreciated the action of Rapid Action Force (RAF) in protecting lives and property. One instance is the attack on the village Kritapada in Raikia block.
The slogans uniformly given by the assailants when they looted and burnt villages show that they belong to Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal etc. While some arrests have been made by the police, the victims complain that the main leaders of these organizations are not only not arrested but some of them are on the peace committees set up by the administration. In the villages the same organizations are issuing threats that the victims will not be allowed to come back unless they agree to give up Christianity and convert to Hinduism. This is blatant violation of the constitutional fundamental right of freedom of religion. The administration appears to be helplessly looking on while such blatant suppression is taking place.
The VHP has been campaigning that there have been forcible conversions by the Christian missionaries in this area. On the other hand the victims have complained of forcible conversion by VHP. We will deal this issue in the detailed report that is to follow. For the present all that we need to say is that any forcible conversion is an offence in the eyes of law and can be dealt with by giving an appropriate complaint. Nobody has a right to indulge in mass violence against the Christian community in the name of forcible conversions. On the other hand we are of the opinion that the violence of the last one month is a planned attack on the Christian minority engineered by the Hindutva forces using gullible Adivasis as an instrument. The use of fire arms, petrol and other weapons, the selection of a lengthy route from Jalespeta to Chakapada along Christian habitations, and the blocking of all roads by cutting big trees indicates prior planning. The killing of Lakshmanananda Saraswathi merely gave an opportunity to them. While we do not support the killing of VHP leader, his followers have no right to indulge in mass reprisals and the administration cannot be a mere onlooker.
We place the following demands before the state government:
1. Visitors should be allowed to meet the inmates of the relief camps.
2. The camps should be located in pucca structures with protect from sun and rain and clean surroundings.
3. There is an impression that the administration is putting pressure upon the inmates of the camps to go back to their villages. The official number of persons in the camps has been reduced from 27000 to 13000 without the conditions improving at all in the villages. We demand that the camps should be continued until the people are able to live in freedom and dignity in the villages.
4. While a number of separate FIRs are registered, it is necessary to realize that the attacks are a consequence of a conspiracy by the VHP, Bajrang Dal etc. The leaders of these organisations must be charged with criminal conspiracy and immediately arrested.
5. Prompt and effective steps must be taken to prevent recurrence of incidents of violence and create confidence in the Christian population.
K. Balagopal, General secretary, HRF
V. Chitti Babu, Vice President, APCLC
Prof. N. Babaiah, PDF
A. Marx, State Organiser, PUHR
K. Kesavan, Joint Secretary, CPCL