By Stefan J. Bos, Special Correspondent Worthy News
(Worthy News) - The 12th anniversary of one of India`s deadliest attacks against Christians is marked by concerns that thousands have not yet returned to their homes for fear of reprisals. Additionally, authorities are declining to investigate hundreds of cases, religious rights investigators told Worthy News.
The targeted attacks by Hindu hardliners against Christians in the Kandhamal District of India`s eastern Odisha state India left more than 90 people dead.
Also, 600 villages were ransacked, and an estimated 54,000 individuals left homeless in August, 2008, according to Christians familiar with the situation. Over 40 women were reportedly raped or subjected to sexual assault, an estimated 395 churches were destroyed, and over 5,600 homes looted.
The violence was perpetrated by the Sangh Parivar, the umbrella group of several Hindu nationalist organizations. Attacks followed “a persistent decades-long campaign promoting the Hindutva ideology and hate against Christians in the state,” recalled advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
Following the violence, more than 3,300 complaints were reportedly initially made by victims to the police. “However, only approximately 820 First Information Reports (FIR) was registered, of which only 518 cases were indicted. Local sources indicate that in most cases, the perpetrators were either never arrested or acquitted,” added CSW.
In August 2016, the Supreme Court of India directed the Odisha State government to re-investigate 315 cases, which involved the most severe incidents of violence, Christians said. “However, none of the cases have been reopened, four years on,” complained CSW in a statement to Worthy News.
John Dayal, a civil rights activist, and writer, added: “Kandhamal epitomizes not only targeted violence against religious and other minorities but impunity and state acquiescence with powerful political vested interests. It deals a fatal blow to the concept of rule of law and shakes the faith of the poor in justice.”
He and other activists say Christian families who fled Kandhamal have not returned to their village for fear of reprisals. “Many are displaced and continue to live in extreme hardship having lost their livelihoods. Despite enhanced compensation awarded to 14 Christians by the Odisha High Court in 2018, compensation for majority of victims and for the destruction of houses, charities, shops and churches, remain largely unaddressed and ignored,” CSW noted.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: “Today we remember those who lost their lives in the Kandhamal massacre on account of their faith. Many who lost family members continue to live without closure. CSW stands with the families of the Kandhamal attack and urge that justice be done.”
He told Worthy News in a statement that his group has urged the Odisha government to reopen the hundreds of cases still pending a hearing without further delay. His group also recommends “that steps are taken to reconstruct damaged property and for adequate compensation” and financial arrangements for the victims and their children.
“We also encourage the government to take constructive measures to bring an end to the communal tensions that continue to exist in the state,” Thomas stressed.
Christians comprise roughly two percent of India`s mainly Hindu population of more than 1.3 billion and people.