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Monday, June 09, 2014

ODISHA, COMMUNAL VIOLENCE, RELIGIOUS FREEDOM, INDIA  

Odisha under US Scanner for delaying justice to victims of Kandhamal violence

 

"Placing the violence of Kandhamal in Odisha as one of the worst of its kind in the country and listing it among three major instances of violence like the Gujarat violence of 2002 and the Anti-Sikh riots of 1984, the commission’s report mentions that, “In December 2007, in Kandhamal, Orissa, violence between Christians and Hindus resulted in several deaths, dozens of injuries, churches and homes destroyed and displacement. The murder of an influential Hindu political leader in August 2008 sparked a further violent campaign targeting Christians, even though Maoist extremists claimed responsibility."

 

Basudev Mahapatra

 
   

While 2012 US Commission on International Religious Freedom has not mentioned India in the list of countries of special concern regarding religious freedom, it featured among the nations in the watch list for slow or delaying justice to the victims of communal violence with a special reference to the violence of 2007 and 2008 in Kandhamal of Odisha.

Expressing its concern over the delay in providing justice, the report mentions that, “Progress in achieving justice for victims of past large-scale incidents of communal violence in India continued to be slow and ineffective. In addition, intimidation, harassment, and occasional small-scale violence against members of religious minority groups continued, particularly against Christians in states with anti-conversion laws.

 

While there has been no large-scale communal violence against religious minorities since 2008, and despite the Indian government‘s recognition of past communal violence and the creation of some structures at various levels to address these issues, the deleterious pace of the judicial responses and the adopted anti-conversion laws enable impunity. Based on these concerns, USCIRF again places India on its Watch List for 2012”.

Placing the violence of Kandhamal as one of the worst in the country and listing it among three major instances of violence like the Gujarat violence of 2002 and the Anti-Sikh riots of 1984, the commission’s report mentions that, “In December 2007, in Kandhamal, Orissa, violence between Christians and Hindus resulted in several deaths, dozens of injuries, churches and homes destroyed and displacement. The murder of an influential Hindu political leader in August 2008 sparked a further violent campaign targeting Christians, even though Maoist extremists claimed responsibility. The State Department reported 40 deaths, 134 injuries, the destruction of churches and homes, and over 10,000 fleeing the state. There was no immediate police or state government reaction. Religious leaders and aid agencies were denied access. According to the non-governmental organization All India Christian Council, state police documented an estimated 3,500 complaints related to the violence and registered 827 cases with the local and state court system. Of these, approximately 300 cases have now been heard, with 68 individuals found guilty and incarcerated and 412 individuals given minor punishments such as monetary fines. Around 200 cases were dismissed for lack of evidence, and reportedly over 300 cases are pending. Shortcomings in the system are evident in the case of Manoj Pradhan, a leader in the Hindu-nationalist BJP party. In September 2010, he was charged for the murder of 11 individuals, however, the state‘s high court convicted him only for the culpable homicide of one person and ordered him to pay a small fine. Despite that conviction and pending charges for seven other crimes associated with the 2007-08 violence, Pradhan was released on bail and remains a member of the Orissa state legislature.”

However, in view of the steps taken by Odisha Government and the Union government of India for ensuring religious freedom, Commissioner Felice D. Gaer has registered his dissent commenting that,I respectfully dissent from the decision to recommend that India be placed on the Commission‘s Watch List of countries with egregious, severe violations of religious freedom. I also continue to be deeply concerned over past and present religiously-motivated violence in India, when it occurs, and the need to pursue accountability.

As the Commission notes, India is world‘s largest democracy and has a deeply religious plural society and, in recent years, the national and several state governments have taken positive steps to improve religious freedom. In identifying India for Watch List status this year, the Commission has cited concerns that justice for past communal violence continues to be slow and ineffective and that there is harassment of members of minority groups, particularly Christians in states with anti-conversion laws. Yet it is widely acknowledged that special structures for investigating and prosecuting past religiously motivated violence have been created by Indian governmental actors at the federal and state levels. Data reveals hundreds of persons have been convicted, although many more remain to be processed through India‘s slow moving but highly regarded courts. India‘s judiciary can work effectively to hold the perpetrators responsible and this is in progress.”

Even though Commissioner Gaer’s dissent comes as a relief to the Indian Government and the Naveen Patnaik government in Odisha, the 2012 annual report clearly indicates that US wants to see India as a more secular country than what it is today.

Not fully convinced by the remarks in the report, Social and Rights activist Lenin Raghuvanshi shifts the focus to practical steps to promote peace and to guarantee religious freedom. In this regard, he calls for the creation of movements and local initiatives, which could help to revive the goal of harmony and peaceful coexistence. He spares no criticism of the United States, which instead of processing documents should "raise funds through various agencies" to support projects and peace initiatives. He also calls upon Washington to "support secularism and interfaith harmony while ensuring the supremacy of the rule of law."

The recent USCIRF report reminds the governments at the centre and the States, where violence of communal nature has occurred before, to come out as more secular than now. This is perhaps the reason why Naveen Patnaik advised his Members of both the houses in the Parliament not to vote for the BJP supported Vice-President Candidate but to completely abstain from voting.

 

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