Six sentenced for anti-Christian rampage; tensions persist.
NEW DELHI, September 10 (CDN) — A fast-track court in Orissa state on Monday (Sept. 7) sentenced six people to four years of “rigorous imprisonment” and a fine of 2,000 rupees (US$41) each for their role in anti-Christian violence in the state’s Kandhamal district a year ago.
The court in Phulbani ordered them to remain in prison another three months if they are unable to pay the fine. Additional Sessions Judge Shobhan Kumar Das announced they were convicted of setting Christian houses on fire and engaging in unlawful assembly by defying curfew.
Following the assassination of a Hindu leader on Aug. 23, 2008, Kandhamal district was the epicenter of nearly three months of violence by Hindu extremists that killed at least 100 people and burned more than 4,500 houses and over 250 churches and 13 educational institutions; 50,000 people were displaced. Although Maoists took responsibility for the assassination, Hindu extremists blamed Christians in order to ignite large-scale violence on the minority community.
Sentenced on Monday were Kiringa Kanhar, Lasia Kanhar, Gananath Kanhar, Lankeswar Kanhar, Naresh Kanhar and Gorekh Pradhan. Police had charged 11 people, all residents of Tambasuga village, for burning the houses of Ladada Kanhar and his two sons in the same village in August of last year. The court acquitted five of them for lack of evidence.
The government has set up two fast-track courts at Phulbani, Kandhamal district to bring justice to the victims of violence. A total of 831 cases of violence have reportedly been filed.
“The police have dropped around 300 First Investigation Reports out of the 800-odd cases due to various reasons like lack of evidence,” Orissa High Court attorney Bibhu Dutta Das told Compass.
On June 30, Fast Track Court-II had convicted and sentenced Chakra Mallick of Gochhapada for his involvement in the violence. Mallick was sentenced to four years in prison and a fine of 4,000 rupees (US$82). At the same time, 15 others were acquitted due to lack of evidence.
In addition, Fast Track Court-I had sentenced five people – Bisra Kanhar, Durbasha Kanhar, Rabi Kanhar, Gupteswar Kanhar and Naresh Kanhar of Salaguda village – to six years of prison and a fine of 6,000 rupees (US$123) each.
With the conviction of the six people on Sept. 7, the total number of convictions for the violence increased to 12, while at least 42 others have been acquitted.
Police reportedly arrested 680 persons for their alleged involvement in the violence, and 10,000 people were named in 827 cases registered during the anti-Christian rampage last August. Charge sheets have been filed in 437 cases, with investigations underway in another 354 incidents including the rape of a nun, Director General of Police Manmohan Praharaj told media.
The two Fast Track courts are expected to deliver more verdicts soon. But attorney Das told Compass that the two judges assigned to the Fast Track courts are capable of taking on more cases than they have so far; he predicted they would see an increase soon.
“We will request the [Orissa] High Court to intervene in this situation so that police can speed up investigations,” Das said.
Kandhamal District Collector Krishan Kumar said investigations had already concluded in two-thirds of all cases submitted to police, and that charge sheets had been filed.
“Ten to 12 people have already been convicted in the span of one year,” he said. “This shows that the Orissa government is very serious about justice.”
Fearful Witnesses Attorney Das told Compass that the distance between the Phulbani court and the villages of witnesses is 70 to 80 kilometers (nearly 50 miles), and that they refuse to attend hearings because they have not been provided security.
“Only after a warrant is issued by the court to the witness do they appear before the court,” he said, “for in that case the police usually accompany them to the court since it is a warrant.”
District Collector Kumar told Compass that no witnesses had filed First Information Reports asking for police protection.
“If anybody asks for protection, it will be given to them,” he said.
The state government has shut down the last of the relief camps for victims of the violence that began after the assassination of a Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP) leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four of his disciples at his Jalespata ashram (religious hermitage) in Kandhamal district on Aug. 23, 2008.
The last two camps at Tiangia and Mandakia had housed some 700 refugees from the violence. The government had set up 14 relief camps in Kandhamal alone to accommodate the thousands of people who came in searching for shelter; the violence eventually spread to 14 of Orissa’s 30 districts.
A relief camp in Tikabali in Kandhamal district was shut down on July 27, and when 35 families from there finally returned to their village of Bodimunda on Aug. 29, Hindu extremists attacked them at night. They damaged their tents, and fighting erupted as Christians tried to defend themselves.
“The superintendent of police of that area was informed, and the police intervened on time,” District Collector Kumar told Compass. “There were no casualties, and no one was hurt.”
Report from Compass Direct News