12th anniversary of India’s anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal – Vatican News

By Robin Gomes

A group of civil society organizations in India has called for support for a two-week campaign to remember the victims and survivors of the anti-Christian violence 12 years ago, saying many of them are still awaiting justice and compensation.

Hell broke loose on the Christians of Kandhamal on August 25, 2008, with Hindu extremists making them scapegoats for the August 23 murder of Hindu leader Swami ‎Lakshmanananda Saraswati, even though Maoist rebels ‎claimed his assassination.

The National Solidarity Forum (NSF), a network of 70 civil society and rights organizations, among them activists, priests, religious, lawyers, Christians, Hindus and people of other faiths, has called for a fortnight of commemoration of what they describe as the largest organized communal attacks on Christians “in the history of India in the past three centuries.”

Upholding India’s democratic and pluralistic values

In a press release, NSF said the commemoration is in support of the victims and survivors, whose freedom of conscience and religion has been violated. Organizers intend to promote India’s democratic and pluralistic values seen as best practices and as envisaged by the Indian Constitution. 

Due to the restrictions of Covid-19 health protocols, the forum encourages people to organize webinars, issue declarations, hold candle-lit memorials at home for justice, peace and harmony. It also recommends screening of films, videos, photo and art exhibitions on the Kandhamal atrocities, utilizing the social and mainstream media, to spread awareness and information on the event and related issues. 

“We are sure that if all humanitarian forces join hands to build peace, justice and harmony in this country,” the NSF press statement said, “we will be able to achieve results in these dark times and protect the values of Indian Constitution so that no such violence takes place in India.”

Toll of violence

The NSF statement also recounted the heavy loss of property and life in the 2008 anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal. As many as 395 churches and places of worship of Adivasi (indigenous) and Dalit (low caste) Christians were destroyed. Some 6,500 houses were destroyed. More than 100 people were killed, 40 women were subjected to rape, molestation and humiliation and several educational, social service and health institutions were destroyed and looted.

While more than 75,000 people have been displaced, several cases of forced conversion to Hinduism have also been reported.

Justice denied

Of the more than 3,300 complaints filed with the police during the 2008 communal violence, only some 820 were registered. Of these 820, only 518 cases were chargesheeted, while others were declared false. Only 247 of the 518 cases were disposed of. The rest of the cases are pending before the sessions and magistrate’s courts. Many of the accused have been acquitted. 

“None of the criminals responsible for destruction are in jail today,” the NSF pointed out. “The murderers, rapists, looters and destroyers are today running scot-free.” Instead, 7 innocent persons in jail for 11 years with fabricated cases, are now on bail.

The National Solidarity Forum also drew attention to the Dalits, Adivasis, minorities and other marginalised sections of India, saying they continue to face violence and injustice. Of the 122 cases of violence against Christians, only 23 were registered as of June 2020. The NSF noted that attacks on Christians have “increased consistently” since 2014. 

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