CPI(ML) Fact-finding team Visits Kandhamal

On 14 and 15 January, immediately after the lifting of curfew, a joint fact finding team on behalf of CPI(ML) Liberation and CPI(ML) comprising of 17 members. From the CPI(ML) Liberation, the team members included Kshitish Biswal, State Secretary Orissa, and State Committee members Radhakanta Sethi, Tirupati Gomango, Meghanad Sabar, Brundaban Bidika, Dibakar Beharia along with Mahendra Parida and seven others leaders of the Party, and on behalf of CPI(ML) Comrades Gananath Patra, Tapan Misra, and Srikant. This team visited all the major affected towns and villages. The team covered the worst-affected Bamunigan, Gadapur, Dasingbadi, Daringbadi, Baliguda and Barakhama. During this investigation the team visited door to door and collected information from the worst-affected people directly. Their stories were heart rending. Hundreds of homes of poor Christians as well as churches were broken and their belongings either looted or damaged by VHP, RSS and Bajrang Dal rioters. Four people were brutally killed; one Gobind Naik of Barkhama was charred alive by these goons. They were from RSS and Bajrang Dal and mostly outsiders to the area.
From 24-27 December 2007 there was no rule of law in Kandhmal District. Police handed over the situation into the hands of those hoodlums. The main culprit of this communal violence, Swami Lakhanananda, the VHP Marg Darshak, was very much inspired by the Gujarat victory. In the bandh called from 24 to 26 December on the eve of Christmas celebrations, he directed the VHP, Bajrang DAl and RSS cadres not to allow the Christians to decorate their houses and to celebrate Christmas. The goons destroyed the decorations claiming that celebrations were prohibited during the Bandh. Then the rumour was spread that the Christians had attacked Lakhananda and this aggravated the situation. Then the Sangh goons raised the slogan that 'we will make Orissa another Gujarat.'
With this slogan they ransacked the whole area. Being tortured for four days, some Christian community members organized themselves and retaliated in Paik Sahi in Bamunigan, and in Gadapur also.
Surprisingly when Kandhmal was burning, the Orissa Chief Minister instead of taking strong steps to tackle the situation and protect the hapless Christian community, was busy in celebrating his Party's foundation day at Bhubaneshwar, spending crores of rupees (gifts from POSCO, TATA, VEDANTA, etc?). He has not taken any initiative to arrest the main culprit Lakhanananda because his Government is a coalition with BJP as a partner.

Not only that, he also did not allow the other political parties to go there under the pressure from BJP, till January 13. During our visit Monmohan Samal, the BJP revenue minister visited affected areas of Kandhamal. He instructed his officers, including the Collector and Sub-Collector to evict about fifty Christian families from Barkhama Raod-side basti, though they have been settled there since the last 70-80 years. The Minister's pretext was that the lands were settled in the name of some outside landlord.
Some vested interests of ruling parties like, BJP, BJD and Congress have played a very dangerous role in dividing the poor on caste-communal, religious and dalit-tribal lines for their vote bank politics. The fact-finding team found that the people, mostly Christians, are still living in an atmosphere of fear. Though one month has passed normalcy has not yet returned. Relief measures are not adequate. Sufficient help should be provided to rebuild the houses of the affected people. Adequate compensation is needed for the affected and the worst affected. Similarly compensation should be provided to the families of those who have been killed and injured.

- Khitish Biswal