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US Lawmakers urge action against perpetrators of violence in Orissa's Kandhamal
"21 members of US Congress have tried to share their concern for the victims of 2007 and 2008 violence and the surviving minority community members with Orissa’s CM Naveen Pattnaik seeking strong and effective initiatives to ‘bring to justice the perpetrators of these heinous crimes and ensure that the victims are able to return to their homes and live without fear of further prosecution or attack."
Basudev Mahapatra : October 15, 2009
Even though the episode of violence in Kandhamal is over and the state government is claiming to have restored complete peace in the district, Christian leadership outside India is still uncertain about the security of the minorities living in India, more particularly in the violence hit district of Kandhamal in Orissa, as a letter sent by US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to Orissa’s Chief Minister Naveen Pattnaik on September 25, 2009 by facsimile suggests. A copy of the letter was also forwarded to the Prime Minister of India Dr Manmohan Singh and US Ambassador to India Timothy J Roemer.
In the letter, 21 members of US Congress have tried to share their concern for the victims of 2007 and 2008 violence and the surviving minority community members with Orissa’s CM Naveen Pattnaik seeking strong and effective initiatives to ‘bring to justice the perpetrators of these heinous crimes and ensure that the victims are able to return to their homes and live without fear of further prosecution or attack’.
Seeking quick action the lawmakers placed the facts before the CM that, ‘it has been almost two years since the December 2007 violence in Kandhamal which left at least 4 Christians dead, rendering thousands homeless and destroying approximately 730 houses and 95 churches. Moreover, it has been approximately a year since the swami’s murder and planned attacks of August 2008 which left over 90 innocent civilians murdered and many more who disappeared, with 18,000 people injured and at least 53,000 people displaced’.
The lawmakers group voiced its concern that ‘those responsible for the violence remain at large, intimidating and threatening the victims and other witnesses….Of those who filed first information reports (FIRs) with the police, we are deeply concerned to learn that some Christians were turned away, while others were threatened to withdraw their cases.’
The members of US Congress ridiculed the claims of steps taken by the Orissa government for restoration of peace and normalcy in the district mentioning that, ‘of the 27,000 people who found shelter in 15 relief camps, it has been reported that few have returned to their villages out of fear, while most have been forced out of the relief camps, many of which were closed as early as October 2008 while attacks continued to occur. Reports indicate that at least 600 people were forcibly converted to Hinduism when they tried to return to their homes, often upon threat of death’.
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Appreciating Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s ‘recent apology for what he referred to as an inadequate government response to the violence last year in Orissa, as well as his willingness to revisit the anti conversion laws for the benefit of all members of the faith’ as an encouraging step towards justice for the victims of these attacks, the US Lawmakers have sought information on what Orissa government is doing to ensure that Hindu extremist groups are not using conversion to Hinduism as a stipulation for those Christians who fled to be allowed back into their villages, and also on what the government is doing to ensure that law and order is established so that Christians and all other minorities are able to live without fear of religious, political and economic persecution in their villages in the future.
Apart from these, the lawmakers also wanted to know what Naveen Pattnaik Government is doing to ‘hold the perpetrators of these planned attacks (on minority Christian members) accountable while the cases are being processed’ and what it is doing to ‘work with the Central Bureau of Investigation to investigate the activities of the Bajrang Dal, Viswa Hindu Parishad and other Hindu extremist groups involved in planning and carrying out the attacks in Kandhamal’.
The 21 lawmakers led by Republican Trent Franks expressed its apprehension that, ‘Such attacks on the fundamental freedom of religion threaten not only India's reputation for religious diversity, but also the very stability of India's secular democracy’.
The letter has drawn strong reaction from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership of its Orissa chapter who condemned it saying that, 'this letter is an attempt of unnecessary interference in India’s internal affairs because India has its own organized political system and independent judiciary to take care of its secular, multi-religious principles'.
Even the ruling party Biju Janata Dal’s minority cell chairman condemned the letter saying that the letter is based on secondary information and it has used derogatory words for the Hindus without having an idea of what the word ‘Hindu’ means.
However, the addressee of the letter, Orissa’s CM Naveen Pattnaik straightaway rejected the fact of receiving any such letter.