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Justice still eludes Christian victims of Orissa violence

Country/Region: India, South and East Asia

Nearly three years after the vicious attacks by Hindu radicals in Orissa left dozens of Christians dead and thousands injured, there has been just one conviction for murder, with thousands of complaints disregarded by the authorities.

Christian-shop-Burnt_4X3.jpg
Christian villages in Kandhamal were destroyed by Hindu extremists

A devastating report by a Christian journalist and human rights activist about the Indian authorities' investigations into the mass violence in Kandhamal between August and October 2008 exposes how justice has eluded the Christian victims.

The Orissa State government acknowledges 52 deaths - of whom 38 were Christians - in Kandhamal during that period and the earlier violence at the end of 2007. But the report says:

There has been no attempt by the Directorate of Prosecutions or by the police to upgrade cases where victims died of their injuries not on the spot, but in hospital, refugee camps or other places... This has prevented a large number of cases from being recorded as murder.

Church activists list 91 murder cases, which includes the 38 Christians who died at the scene, plus 41 who later died of injuries sustained in the violence and 12 who died in police action.

In 20 cases brought to date, there has been just one conviction for murder.

Mass violence and vandalism

Around 18,000 people were injured in the attacks and 6,000 houses and 296 churches and smaller places of Christian worship were burnt in 400 villages. Over 56,000 people were displaced, and over 10,000 are yet to return home. Around 1,000 have been warned that they can come back only if they convert to Hinduism.

After the attacks subsided in October 2008, 3,232 criminal complaints relating to murder, abduction, violence and arson were filed. Of these, 1,541 are acknowledged by Kandhamal district police, but only 828 were converted to First Information Reports (FIR), which mark the beginning of further investigation and the case being brought for trial.

Only 327 cases have reached the courts, resulting in 169 acquittals and 86 convictions, but not for the most serious crimes mentioned in the FIRs, rather for comparatively minor ones meriting prison terms of just two or three years; 90 cases are still being tried.

A total of 1,597 suspects have been acquitted; this does not include the thousands who could not be arrested and therefore could not be brought to trial.

Statements from jurists who have seen the case records reveal "grave lapses" on the part of the Investigating Officer, Public Prosecutor and the Trial Judge. These include the failure to obtain statements from eye witnesses and not properly cross-examining or questioning hostile witnesses. They said that in several judgements the trial judge had sufficient material showing the participation and identification of the accused persons in an unlawful assembly, "the object of which was to cause inter alia homicidal death of the victims".

Christians who were affected by the violence in Orissa are still picking up the pieces of their shattered lives, and Barnabas Aid is continuing to support them through a variety of home rebuilding, vocational training and business start-up projects.

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christian, persecution, charity, church, persecuted, sookhdeo, Islam

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