The after-effects of the anti Christian violence (2007) in Kandhamal district of Orissa are not over, so to say. Recently the Archbishop Cheenath of the state said that the elections in the Kandhmamal district should be postponed as the refugees living in the camps are not able to return. The reason is that many of them who returned were threatened by the local Bajrang Dal workers and associates. They were told to renounce Christianity, convert to Hinduism pay the fine, withdraw the cases and vote for the candidate who they will be told to, obviously BJP candidate. Many of those who tried to return with such hostile conditions awaiting them if they return, came back, some to the camps others to unknown destinations.
Meanwhile BJP candidate of the area, Ashok Sahu, when he came to know about his likely arrest for ?Hate speech? first absconded for few days and then was arrested just three hours before the campaign was to be over (14th April 2009). He told his followers to keep calm; else the elections will be postponed, as being demanded by the Archbishop. One also recalls a similar situation in the post Gujarat violence. There, while state Government claimed that normalcy has returned, the Chief election commissioner James Michael Lyngdoh was visibly upset when he saw the condition of the Muslims living in the camps and their inability to be able to be part of the electoral process.
In Orissa the violence has taken a heavy toll of the amity of the region. The violence which began August 2007 continued till December. It resulted in death of close to 6-7 hundred Panos (Christians) and 90 Churches, 100 other Christian institutions were destroyed. The pretext was that Swami Laxamananand, the VHP swami working in the area has been murdered by Christians. At the same time the Maoist group claimed that they own the responsibility for the act. Since some pretext was needed to launch the attacks, the claim of Maoists was not considered and the VHP, BJP and company kept harping that it is the Christians who have committed the crime. As such the matter is tragic but simple. Who so ever has committed the crime should be punished. Why the whole Christian community has to be targeted and attacked for the act of some group or an individual.
Since at that time BJP was part of the ruling coalition it had its way. The death procession of swami was taken through a long circuitous route. The idea was to communalize the atmosphere in maximum area. This again is quite akin to Gujarat. After the Godhra train tragedy the dead bodies were taken in a procession to Ahmedabad, with VHP, BJP workers shouting provocative slogans. The whole hell was encouraged-permitted to be unleashed. Here also a long route was deliberately taken and police and other state authorities acted as the bystanders when the mayhem broke out. Surprisingly the VHP?s Praveen Togadia was permitted to go to the area while the Central Minister of State for Home affairs was not permitted to visit the area.
The violence in Kandhmal is a case of how communal forces can divide and come to dominate, become strong through orchestrated violence. The Kandhs, (Adivasis) are close to 50% of population, and dalits, most of them Panos are 16.9%. Kandhs and Panos are the two major communities in the area. The remaining 30% are called Oriyas, since they don?t speak the languages of these two major groups, the local Kui language. These are from various urban regions, traders being a big chunk of them. The Kandhs, Adivasis were mainly food gatherers. Panos were landless outcastes who came to hills in search of livelihood, close to two centuries ago; Kandhs put their land at the disposal of Panos, since Kandhs themselves were not into agriculture. Panos came as servile labor. The communalists have propagated that Panos are grabbing the land of Kandhs. Kandhs come under the schedule Tribe category while Panos are dalits. Today Kandhs own close to 9% of land, while the traders, Orriyas, control much more of Adivasi land. The major land grab from Adivasis has been by traders, but no agitation has ever been done against that by the RSS affiliates.
Many of these dalits took to Christianity and many of them benefited due to education, and the consequent jobs. As noted they also came to posses some land over a period of time, still their land holding is much lesser than that of Non local Orriyas. A massive propaganda has been going on in the area that Panos have grabbed the Adivasi land that they are trying to manipulate caste certificates to take advantage of status of ST’s. As a matter of fact both the Kandhs and Panos speak Kui. State has declared ST category for Kui?s, due to which some Panos also got some ST concession, it has not been a deliberate act.
These two issues were exploited by the VHP, Bajrang dal people who have been spreading the Hate against Christians in the area. It is important to note that Christian missionaries have been working in the area from over two centuries. Missionaries never used violence for conversion, while the RSS affiliates have resorted to all sorts of intimidation to convert them to Hinduism through newly invented conversion rituals. And asserting their political definition of Hinduism, they say that Adivasis are Hindus, who have drifted away due to allurement, so Adivasis coming to Hinduism is not conversion but a Ghar Vapasi, ?return home? for these misguided ones?. Swami Laxmananand came here from last few decades and began his campaign of Hate against minorities. The result is there for all to see. The report on Kandhamal violence has recently (March 2009) been published by various human rights organization, ?From Kandhmal to Karavali: The Ugly Face of Sangh Parivar?. It points out ?that the violence was committed by Sangh Parivar organizations, mainly Bajrang Dal?police watched benignly as the arson took place in public. The ideology and organization of their mentor RSS pervades in the media?the press has reported the violence in the manner that put the onus on victim, they were at fault and had it coming? (page 3) what is spread to create hate is the distorted version of country?s history and the false hood about our society. Today we are witness to the process where by people like Asok Sahu have not only spread their political tentacles through ?Hate Other? ideology, but also that they are violating the laws of the land for their political benefit. Tragically the distorted version of History has been one of the main weapons of the social common sense, which forms the base of communal violence. One hopes that in due course society and all those concerned with preservation of plural values not only look at the immediate causes of Hate other ideology, but also the deeper propaganda against the minorities widely prevalent through various organizations practicing politics.
Ram Puniyani is a Professor at IIT Mumbai and is associated with EKTA, Committee for Communal Amity, Mumbai .