Urgent Tasks in Kandhamal District, Orissa in the Wake of the Christmas Week Anti-Christian Violence 2007

I returned home to New Delhi a couple of hours ago after spending fourteen days in Orissa – six days in two phases in the hills of the Kandhamala district of Orissa in the week of the Christmas 2007 violence against Christians, and unfortunately four days in an Intensive Care Unit of a Bhubaneswar hospital after a diabetic ketoacidosis collapse. I am grateful to Doctor Neeraj Misra of Kar Hospital, and Father Bernard and his brother priests at Bishops House in Bhubaneswar who nursed me back so I could travel home. I had gone to Orissa on 289th morning, after meeting Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil and his officers in North Block, New Delhi.Kandhamala still shivers under a mist laden with a foreboding – that something dark and violent may happen on what is called Makar Sankrati, a pleasant and happy occasion that should mark the beginning of spring, but which, in this part of Orissa, marks the season when the Vishwa Hindu Parishad maverick resident abbot Lokhmananda Saraswati, the man at the root of all trouble, who reserves his most vituperative fulminations against Christians for this occasion. The gentleman is currently in Cuttack-Bhubaneswar but threatens to go back in the next three four days to his forest ashram.The Orissa Government’s own blanket of darkness over Kandhamala does not help. No one really knows the full plight of the Christians in the refugees’ camp at Barakhama village-town. Relief groups and civil society are still barred from the area, despite repeated pleases by organizations of the stature of CARITAS, EFICOR and the like, and appeals by Archbishop Raphael Cheenath.
There has been an unreported death – the death of civil society in Orissa. There is no Digant Oza, no Teesta Setalvad, and Javed Anand, no Harsh Mander and Harsh Sethi, no Shamsul Islam-Neelima Sharma and their street theatre Nishant, no ANHAD and SAHMAT equivalents in Orissa, and the above name too are yet to come to the State and to the national Press. In their absence, mischief and white lies have a field day. Television News anchors quote Lokhmananda and speak of debates on conversion. Not one paper calls for relief and assistance and legal aid.

I intend to go back to Orissa after about a week or so after regaining health and writing out the White Paper. I released the preliminary report in Bhubaneswar, just before I took ill.

The following needs to be urgently done in Kandhamala, other than the work of relief and rehabilitation.

1. Re-building civil society. We need to, and I hope to be able to, organize at least four national seminars – one each in Calcutta and Hyderabad, which have had an organic relationship with Orissa in the past, and one each in Delhi and Mumbai to focus attention on the growth of fascism in hidden parts of India and how to meet the challenge as collective civil society, and not as a response only from the victim communities.
2. Organizing legal assistance: This has to be on a par with the organized legal assistance that helped put the trauma of the Gujarat victims in the lap of the legal system. This has to be multi tiered.
We need par algal activist to help villagers file FIRs for their burnt houses and shops and their displaced families. We need legal assistance to trace out culprits. We need legal assistance to defend
innocents that are being trapped by the police in the guise of`parity’ between communities. We need this before evidence is lost or false `evidence’ manufactured by a governance system that has totally sold itself out to its Coalition Dharma with the Bharatiya Janata Party. And we need to investigate issues of impunity in the matter of the mysterious police firing in Braminigaon.
3. We need to tell Civil Society in India and abroad that the attack on Christians in Orissa is at par with the repeated mauling of Muslims in Gujarat and other states, and an integral part of the Sangh Parivar’s ideology.

I hope to be able to analyze some of threes issues in larger essays soon.

I am sorry to record that till the film maker Mahesh Bhatt came to Bhubaneswar and addressed a press conference with Maharashtra Minorities Commission vice chairman Abraham Mathai to denounce the Sangh Parivar and warn of its designs, no other worthy had dared do so. And till All India Christian Council president Dr Joseph D Souza and New Methodist Bishop Joab Lohara shared the stage with Dalit leader Udit Raj, there had been no visible protest of any magnitude in the capital of Orissa.

I regret that Union Home Minister Patil did not visit more places even more than I regret that the National Minorities Commission did not visit any place other than the town of Phulbani.

In a way, I thank the handsome and smug Inspector General of Police Kapoor, who had me escorted out of Phulbani on 29-30 December 2007 and the sarcastic Divisional commissioner, the subdivision police office and the circle inspect tor of Braminigaon whose language and behaviour, in a flash, made me understand that the apparatus of governance stood firmly on the side of a particular ideology.

I wish to close with my thanks, and those of my family, once again to the Catholic Fathers of Orissa, in particular Fr Bernard, Fr Nicholas Barla, Fr Mrtiyunjay and Fr Madan, Rev Pran Patrichha, Dr Anna and the MC Sisters for their love and care.

I salute the brave Nuns, Pastors and Priests of the Kandhamala, tribal, Dalit and always rooted in the soil of their mother hills.

And I wish to salute Archbishop Raphael Cheenath, SVD, who defies his 73 years, to provide Orissa the sort of leadership the late Archbishop Alan de Lastic provided us all in 1998 and later.

Happy New Year

John Dayal
New Delhi

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