Thousands rally for justice in Kandhamal

Raikia (Matters India): More than 5,000 people marched in a town Odisha’s Kandhamal district on Monday to press for justice, peace and communal harmony.

More violence, we want peace and justice,” shouted the marchers, who were mostly people of Kandhamal that had witnessed unprecedented attacks against Christians seven years ago.

The march marked the seventh anniversary of the Kandhamal violence that killed nearly 100 people and displaced more than 50,000 others.

They marched from Beradakia Chowk to Raikia College Chowk in Raikia, a major town in Kandhamal district, covering a distance of one and half kilometers.

They also demanded end to atrocities against minorities and women and division of people in the name of religion and caste.

Their also demanded appropriate compensation for the damages and losses they suffered during the sectarian violence in 2007 and 2008.

Among those who addressed the marchers were Mani Shankar Iyer, a former federal minister, Bridna Kara, a Member of Parliament and a top leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Kavita Krishnan, former Member of Parliament and a Marxist leader.

“As a central minister, I had come to this beautiful land before violence and now when I came here, I feel deep pain,” said Mani Shankar Aiyar.

“Diverse religions and castes used to live in peace. But suddenly a lot people were killed, displaced, houses and churches were destroyed, women were raped and molested. Even now many people who were displaced cannot come back. Should we forget what happened? Forgetting can be a crime. Justice has to be achieved,” he added.

Karat said the accused in only two murder cases have received “some sort of imprisonment.”

“Does it mean that the rest of those who were killed were not human beings? Though the Maoists had taken the responsibility of the murder of Swami Laxmananda, seven innocent Adivasis and Dalits are in prison today for the same crime. You do not punish the guilty and you punish the innocents with fabricated cases. These innocents are not even given bail, while bails are easily given to those who are responsible for communal violence in any part of this country,” she added.

Krishnan wants to equate what the Hindu radicals had done in Kandhamal in 2007 and 2008 with terrorism. “If this is not terrorism what else is it?” asked she asked.

She asserted that the Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian people’s party) that heads the federal coalition does not represent Hindu religion. “It represents politics of hate in the name of religion. When thousands of people protested against a rape which took place in Delhi, I reminded them that these struggles are also against the rapes of innocent women in the name of religion in places like Kandhamal.”

She also regretted that paramilitary soldiers deployed to combat Maoists in Kandhamal recently killed two villagers who had gone to make a phone call to their son.
“I would also like to remind the government here that instead of providing justice for the victims and survivors of Kandhamal, you are grabbing and punishing innocent people.”

Krishnan commended the victims and survivors for turning up in large numbers for the rally despite facing several hurdles.

Advocate Dibakar Parichha who coordinates the legal matters of the Kandhamal communal violence, asked the government to identify and prosecute those who are threatening the witnesses and members of the Christian community.

According to a survey, properties worth 900 million rupees were damaged in the communal violence and compensation given so far is only 7 million rupees. He said that a case has been filed in the Supreme Court of India, seeking the court’s intervention in dispensing adequate compensation to the victims.

Jacob Pradhan, the local Member of Legislative Assembly, said that compensation given to Kandhamal communal violence victims are meager compared to Gujarat 2002 and Muzaffarnagar riot victims and even that is not properly distributed yet. He asked the government to expedite the process of distribution of a proper compensation and to take measures to restore peace and harmony in Kandhamal.

Suresh Panigrahi, the state secretary of Marxist party, said that everyone has the right to choose and practice their religion and no forces should be allowed to disrupt this fundamental right.
Human rights activist Ajaya Kumar Singh, who presided over the meeting, said that peace is not the absence of violence, but living a life free from fear and insecurity. This has not happened in Kandhamal even after seven years communal violence. “We have a right to equality, freedom and justice. These are universal indivisible and inalienable rights,” he said.

The meeting started with homage to the people who lost their lives during the violence.

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