By Purushottam Nayak
Bhubaneswar: Bibhuti Pattnaik, eminent Odia writer on Jund 23 formally released the book “Kandhamal: Introspection of Initiative for Justice 2007-2015” written by noted Supreme Court lawyer Vrinda Grover and law academic Saumya Uma at Lohiya Academy, Bhubaneswar.
The 304-page book is divided into six chapters, and makes an in-depth analysis of various legal responses to the Kandhamal violence, including the role of Commissions of Inquiry, Response of National Human Rights Institutions, aspects of reparative justice – right to compensation, restitution and rehabilitation, the functioning of the criminal justice system, protection of witnesses from threat and intimidation, as well as false counter cases against victim survivors.
This is the first comprehensive investigation of the justice process in one of the most traumatic cases of communal violence targeting the Christian community in India. Human rights groups estimate that around 100 people were killed, including disabled and elderly persons, children, men and women.
More than 600 villages were ransacked; at least 6,500 houses were looted and burnt; at least 54,000 people were left homeless; 395 churches and other places of worship, big and small, were destroyed; 13 schools, colleges, philanthropic institutions including leprosy homes, tuberculosis sanatoriums, and offices of several non-profit organizations were looted, damaged or burnt. About 30,000 people were uprooted and lived in relief camps and continue to be displaced. During this period about 2,000 people were forced to renounce their Christian faith.
Nine years have passed since these mass crimes were committed. Neither have the perpetrators been brought to justice, nor have the victims been rehabilitated. Adv. Grover and Dr. Uma documented the painful details how the state and the judiciary responded to the victim-survivors’ quest for justice.
There have been more than 3300 complaints, but only about 820 FIRs were registered. Out of these, only 518 cases were charge-sheeted. The police treated the remaining cases as false reports, allegedly due to lack of evidence. Out of the 518 cases that were charge-sheeted, 247 cases were disposed off. Out of the 30 trials for murder, the courts convicted accused in only two cases. There have been convictions in 4-5 other murder cases, but for lesser offences. Out of 727 cases that were tried in two fast track courts, only 46 (5.13%) of the 895 accused were convicted and 793(88.60) acquitted.
The victim’s’ right to justice was defeated through defective and malafide investigation, or investigation that was deliberately designed to shield the accused. As perusal of the fast Track Court judgments shows that in a number of cases the accused is acquitted because the witnesses turn hostile and do not support the prosecution case during trial before the court.
The authors have questioned that why in cases of communal violence there such a high rate of attrition is. Yet another factor responsible for mass acquittals is the lack of a witness protection program. In many cases, the accused knew the victims, and threatened them—sometimes in open court—with death or rape if they testified against them. The authors note that the judges seemed perfectly willing to let the judicial process be compromised by witnesses too terrified to testify truthfully.
The book is released in presence of authors of the book; Supreme Court Advocate Vrinda Grover, Law Academician cum Prof.Saumya Uma, Member, National Integration Council, Sri John Dayal, noted journalist, Sri Kedar Mishra, writer, Sri SudhirPattnaik, Sri Dhirendra Panda and Ajaya Kumar Singh.
India has seen many incidents of communal violence targeting religious minorities. Every violence sees children and adults killed in the most inhuman manner, women raped, and thousands rendered homeless in mass arson. State impunity, police bigotry and insensitivity, and shoddy or non-existent investigation have marked the post-violence scene. Relief, rehabilitation, and the criminal justice system has repeatedly failed the victims and survivors.
This book is a unique investigation of the Justice process in targeted mass violence on this nature. Similar work has perhaps not been done in earlier cases targeting other communities. It is a searing indictment of the system that has failed the victim.
Vrinda Grover is a lawyer, researcher and human rights activist based in New Delhi, India.
Her research and writing probe the impunity of the state for human rights violations particularly in areas of militarization and conflict, and the role of law in the subordination of women. She was a Research Fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, Delhi 2013-2014. She has done seminal research on targeted communal violence including the 1984 anti Sikh pogrom and the attack on Christians in Kandhamal in 2008. Vrinda Grover is a prominent commentator in the media on jurisprudential issues relating to human rights violations and violence against women.
Saumya Uma has worked in varying capacities over the past 22 years, including as a lawyer, law researcher, law trainer, campaigner and academician, with a specialization in gender and human rights. She has engaged with the issue of justice for the survivors of the violence in Kandhamal violence since 2010. She researched and authored ‘Breaking the Shackled Silence: Unheard Voices of Women from Kandhamal’, published by National Alliance of Women – Odisha chapter in August 2014, which examined the status of the women survivors six years after the violence. She has researched and authored twelve books, edited / co-edited books by reputed publishers such as the Oxford University Press, and has written and published more than 45 articles on a range of issues pertaining to human rights, violence against women and the law. She is a recipient of the prestigious British Chevening scholarship for human rights in 1998. She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. from NLSIU, Bangalore.
Vrinda Grover and Saumya Uma have worked together on the issue of justice for the survivors of Kandhamal violence for the past seven years. In 2010, Saumya Uma authored ‘Kandhamal: The Law Must Change its Course’, edited by Vrinda Grover, published by Multiple Action Research Group, New Delhi. In 2011, they worked together on ‘Waiting for Justice: A Report of National People’s Tribunal on Kandhamal’ along with Vahida Nainar, published by National Solidarity Forum, New Delhi.