Friday, August 22, 2014

Column for 22.8.2014 Remembering our Christian brethren Kandhamal 2008-2014

Remembering our Christian brethren
Kandhamal 2008-2014

Teesta Setalvad

It is six years since nearly a 100 people were massacred because they were Christians and poor and adivasis, some Dalits. The pogrom under the BJD-BJP government in August 2008  -- the anniversary of the anti-Christian pogrom falls next week – followed the mysterious murder of Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati  on a Sunday morning (August 23 2008). Praveen Togadia led the coffin over 300 kilometres all over Orisaa in the three days that followed- a la Milosoveic—the state administration allowed him and his hate ridden agenda free access and nearly 6,000 Christian houses and 300 churches were destroyed in the unabated violence that lasted weeks (according to Initiative to Justice, Peace and Human Rights, Bhubaneswar). Though two Fast Track Courts had been set up to try the bloodshed and mayhem, only 3,181 of the over 11,300 named in 828 FIRs were brought to trial with only 477 convicted for minor offenses like arson and rioting. Recent investigations by activists have revealed that of the 27 murder trials, except two all others have ended up in acquittals on murder charge due to shoddy and poor investigation, lackluster prosecution and rampant witness intimidation. Unlike in the case of Gujarat 2002, where Survivors and Activists took great risks and ensured that the Supreme Court of India kept monitoring the massacre trials, here justice has fallen by the wayside.
Manoj Pradhan, shockingly was elected as MLA from behind bars after being put up as its candidate by the utterly shameless BJP (remember Sanjeev Baliyan from western Uttar Pradesh is a Minister in Modi’s cavbinet!!!) despite being accused in seven separate murders, had been sitting as sentry at the entrance of the Fast Track Court and threatening the witnesses even in the court premises. Despite this, mid-way through the trial of the cases committed to it, the two Fast Tract Courts were wound up in March 2013.
Genocidal crimes develop in eight stages – classification, symbolisation, dehumanisation (of the target group), organisation, polarisation, identification, extermination, denial (and destruction of the evidence of crimes) – according to Dr Gregory H. Stanton of Genocide Watch. Appropriate state intervention can arrest and reverse the process in the early stages. But where the state itself is mute witness to, complicit in or sponsor of the entire process, it becomes inevitable, progressing from one stage to the next.
Kandhamal may not compare to the 2002 genocide in Gujarat in terms of the intensity and spread of violence, the extent of bestiality involved or the level of state collusion. But it is evident from the 160 page report of the National People’s Tribunal on Kandhamal that 2011 was one of the worst years in post-independence India for this religious minority. Mercifully, there was no repeat of Kandhamal in terms of the intensity and consequences of communal violence. But the attacks were numerous and widespread across 16 states and union territories. The worst offences were committed in Karnataka, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Included in the list of crimes were murder, grievous injuries and merciless beatings, rape and molestation of women, desecration and destruction of churches and other places of worship, illegal detention and arrests, abuse and insult of Christian clergy and the laity. While highlighting 250 criminal incidents, the report claims that there were a total of over 1,000 such incidents during 2011. The tribunal’s 160-page report that all the ingredients of genocidal intent and action were present in Kandhamal too: from the systematic dehumanisation and demonisation of Christians, to organisational preparations and planning for the carnage, to the obvious attempts at destruction of evidence. “The deliberate destruction of evidence pertaining to these crimes came to the attention of the jury,” says the report.
Here are two examples from the report of the attempts to destroy evidence:
One: “The body of Rajani Majhi, the warden of an orphanage at Padampur, was burnt and, according to Nicholas Barla, who testified before the tribunal and quoted Fr Edward Sequeira, the lower part of her body was completely burnt so as to destroy all evidence of alleged gang rape.”
Two: “The collector of Bargarh forced Fr Basil Kullu to remove all evidence of damage to and destruction of the Madhupur church and hostels and even sent some persons to clear the debris that was lying in the compound, indicating the nature and extent of the attack. (
The second instance is just one of the many examples of the gross dereliction of duty and collusion of various state actors and representatives of other democratic institutions: the police, administration and officials in charge of local bodies. The shameful conduct of the police in particular consisted in the refusal to act despite advance intimation of criminal preparations; reluctance to take cognisance of crimes through refusal to register first information reports; shoddy investigation; inaction over victim survivors’ complaints of threats and intimidation or forced conversions; or lodging of criminal complaints against witnesses in a bid to turn the victims into the accused.
Compounding and concluding this sad narrative of our recurring national shame is the all too familiar failure of the justice delivery system after Kandhamal: shoddy charge sheets; public prosecutors biased against the victims/witnesses; threats and intimidation of victims/witnesses in the absence of any witness protection; and the insensitive and biased conduct of some judges during trials. In short, Kandhamal seems fated to remain yet another grim example of the failure of the institutions of Indian democracy to protect the life and property of a section of citizens, compounded by the lack of punishment of the perpetrators and denial of justice to the victims.
Recent investigations by Anto Ankara reveal that the suspicion that Kandhamal conflagration had a bigger agenda is reinforced by the publication of the book ‘Harvest of Hate – Kandhamal in Crossfire’, authored by Michael Parker and published by the mysterious ‘India Foundation’ from a fake address in New Delhi. The title of the book itself is a plagiarism of the title of the book by Swami Agnivesh and Rev. Valson Thampu - ‘Harvest of Hate – Gujarat under Siege’.
Contrary to the title, the 348-page book ignored the brutal hate crimes unleashed on the Christians and brazenly justified it. Even on a casual perusal, the language and the content would make anyone wonder if it was really the work of a Seattle-based US anthropologist.
Apart from spreading canards about Christianity, the ‘Harvest Hate’ has not spared even others who spoke out against the witch-hunting of Christians. Supreme Court Judge Markandey Katju - presently chairman of the Press Council of India - who had made scathing remarks during the hearing on the witch-hunting of the Christians in Kandhamal has been bluntly accused of ‘following a script written by the Congress party’.
Despite the bulky book being mailed freely by anonymous senders and ‘gifted’ to top church officials by even RSS leaders, it was not available for sale at the address nor the email address evoked any response despite carrying a ‘Foreword’ by senior BJP leader Nirmala Sitaraman, presently a minister in the cabinet of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Even the fanciful ‘India Foundation’ has no telephone number. The suspicion about the genuineness of the author behind ‘Harvest of Hate’ dubbed as ‘an honest documentation’ by the ‘Organiser’ has been confirmed with the emergence of the same book under a different name – ‘ORISSA in the CROSSFIRE – Kandhamal Burning’.
The ‘new’ book that is being e-marketed by the new publisher - - had a new author too. Thus, Michael Parker became Brannon Parker with hardly any change in the content of the book. But the most shocking element in the double Parker episode is the ‘note’ attached to the new book: “The Indian edition of the book was written under the name Michael Parker”.
Shockingly, in his preface to ‘ORISSA in the CROSSFIRE – Kandhamal Burning’, Brannon Parker admits that “In 2009, this report was presented to the US State Department by Ram Madhav, a National Executive of the Rashtriya of the Swayamsevak Sangha.” (Page three, last para). The Rama Madhav, RSS spokesperson had ‘gifted’ the earlier book by ‘Harvest of Hate’ by Michael Parker to church leaders in Kerala after seeking appointment for ‘harmony visit’ in 2012. This shows who is behind this mysterious book and ghost authors. No wonder Madhav has been recently honoured for this advocacy and deputed to the BJP as a senior leader.   
Though saffron lobby has put up a website called ‘Kandhamal Justice’ (, only ‘‘ORISSA in the CROSSFIRE – Kandhamal Burning’ by Brannon Parker was linked to it while Michael Parker’s ‘Harvest of Hate’ has been thrown to the dustbin of history. The saffron groups have also canonized the new author as ‘Vedanta Kesari Brannon Parker’.
On August 11,2014 Digvijay Singh raised this matter in the Rajya Sanha. Referring to books that were spreading communal ideology, Singh said, "There are books like 'Harvest of Hate' and 'Kandhamal in crossfire' authored by Michael Parker and another book 'Orissa in crossfire' by Brannon Parker. These books are published by India Foundation." He said there is no information about the publisher neither on the book nor on the internet. "The name of the publisher is missing...We went to the address of the publisher, but the publisher was not found. On internet, there is no information about India Foundation. Moreover, the foreword of these books is written by Cabinet Minister Nirmala Sitaraman," he said and demanded ban on these books and an enquiry into the issue.The Congress leader also warned that if government allows circulation of such books, it will lead to further spread of communal violence in the country.
With the brazen declarations of Mohan Bhagwat that this country is not 'Bharat' but 'Hindu-sthan' and already a Hindu rashtra, with the eerie silence of the pracharak-turned Prime Minister, the signs are more than ominous. Will we all and Indian democracy withstand this onlsaught?

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