This news as told by P.C. Dogra,Retd..IPS officer.
Iwas a member of the Fact Finding Mission, constituted by Ahmedabad based NGO, Justice on Trial. We were in the forested mountains of Kandhamal district of Orissa and other places from January 18 to 21 and visited all the trouble spots and interacted with the concerned segments of society.
This area, which is a scenic beauty and is said to be the Kashmir of Orissa had to suffer the agony of clashes between two local communities—the Vanvasi Kondh predominantly Hindus, and Scheduled Caste Panas mostly converted to Christianity.
National and international media, without a reality check, went overdrive to portray the incidents as pre-planned attack on poor Christian minority by “a rabidly communalist Sangh Parivar” No one dwelt deep into the whole issue. It is more a social issue and a deep rooted resentment than a communal one.
It is a fact that a large number of churches and houses of Christians have been burnt and damaged especially in the town of Barakhoma under Balliguda block. But it is also a fact that many houses of Hindus, much more than Christians, have been damaged and burnt. I have seen it with my own eyes. One Khageshwar Mallik, a Vanvasi Hindu, was lynched to death due to a stone pelting indulged by the Christians. Unfortunately, neither the national nor the international media made a mention of it in their dispatches.
The epicenter of this trouble was Brahmanigaon town. On December 23, 2007, the local Christians wanted to erect a gate by the side of the main road where every year Durga puja function is held. The Christians have been celebrating Christmas inside the church, not outside on the main road. They changed the venue for the last two years. Last year also Hindus objected to the new arrangement. But Christians just ignored it. This time, Hindus had decided to take on Christians on this issue.
The local Suprintendent of Police (SP) intervened and suggested a separate place for the Christmas function, a little distance away. However on December 23, 2007 itself, the Christians set one hotel and three shops on fire in the very presence of the S.P. and the District Magistrate and started constructing their pandal at the site objected by the Hindus. This led to the clashes.
Swami Laxmananand Saraswati, a selfless Hindu seer of 80 years of age, has been working for the last forty years for the socio-economic development of the local people who are most backward and live in the remote areas of Orissa. He has opened a number of social service institutions including schools and hostels for the Vanvasi boys and girls where the education and hostel facilities are free. He is literally worshipped by the Vanvasi Hindus.
He set out for Brahmanigoan on December 24 to see the situation for himself. While he was on his way, his vehicle was intercepted at Darsinghbadi. He was surrounded and assaulted by the converted Christians. The seer was seriously injured. The news of attack on Swamiji added fuel to the fire. His followers came out in the open against Christians. The worst affected in this respect was Barakhoma town, where a large number of churches and houses of the Christians were either burnt or damaged.
Thereafter on December 27, Christians, with the help of the Maoists, indulged in large scale arson against Hindus. A total of 130 houses of Hindus were burnt/damaged in Brahmani-gaon, 48 houses in the town of Gaddapur of Darsinghbarhi block and 5 in the village Kinari Noiga. One Hindu temple was totally burnt in the village Gumkia.
Sorry to say that Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil visited Barakhoma village where churches were burnt, but deliberately avoided visiting Brahmanigaon, where the entire Hindu basti was burnt by the Christians with the help of the Maoists. It may be noted that most Maoist activists in the district are among the recent converts to Christianity. Security forces have reportedly seized 20 guns from 47 Maoists arrested in connection with the burning of villages inhabited by Hindus.
So far the communal aspect is concerned, one has to go beyond it. What had been the root cause of these frequent clashes in reality is more of social character than the religious one. The Kondhs, native Vanvasi community, constitute the overwhelming majority of the district Kandhamal. Panas, originally a Scheduled Caste group, have been totally converted to Christianity. On conversion, Panas have lost the rights of reservation originally enjoyed by them as Scheduled Caste. Kui, the mother tongue of the Kondhs, is the principal language of the district. Since Christian Panas live in the contiguity of Kondh Hindu Vanvasis, they speak the same language i.e. Kui dialect as that of Kondhs. On this basis, Panas also want to be categorised as Scheduled Tribe. As a result, the ST and SC people have become apprehensive of their rights being curtailed and grabbed by converted people who as per the present law are not eligible. Justice Ranganth Commission appointed by the Congress Government had also recommended that the facility of reservation be extended to the converted Dalit people,
J.B. Patnaik government of Orissa had recommended to the Centre in 1982 to recognise the Kuis as STs. It got the President’s assent in 2002. But the State Government held that Kui is a dialect and not a tribe and thus rejected the claim of Panas, saying “your claim to change the caste name from Pana to Kui appears to have no merit as it is not based on historical and anthropological facts” and further as per the Record of Rights Kui speaking Panas are categorised as belonging to Schedule Caste.
The Kui Jankalyan Sangh filed a writ petition in the Orissa High Court praying for “Restoration of Kui community status as tribal community after the promulgation of the Presidential SC/ST (Amendment) Order-2002. The High Court disposed it of with a direction to the State Government to look into the matter and make necessary correction in the Record of Rights in accordance with the Presidential order-2002. The Government reiterated its stand that Kui is a dialect and not a community. The Kui Jankalyan Sangh again went to the Court for recall of its order dated 12.7.2007. The Court again left it to the concerned revenue officer to decide the issue.
Kondh community has been agitating on this issue for quite some time. On December 25-26, 2007, they had given a call for bandh with the following demands. 1) Clarification of amended Presidential notification that Kui is a language and not a Scheduled Tribe. 2) Deregistration of the NGO, World Vision, which claims to work for the Kui Samaj saying that “it is a Scheduled Tribe” 3) Action against ex. Minister Padmanabha Behera for suggesting that the “World Vision was engaged in the welfare of the Kui samaj which is Scheduled Tribe” and was utilising the state machinery to repress them. 4) CBI enquiry against R.K. Nayak IAS (retd) and a Congress member of Rajya Sabha. He is the founder of Phulbani Kui Jankalyan Sangh, which has been spearheading the campaign to get the Pana community to which he belongs, categorised as a Scheduled Tribe. It is alleged that Shri Naik a converted Christian, had got into Indian Administrative Service in Scheduled Caste quota, which he is not entitled to as per Indian Constitution. 5) Those who have obtained forged certificates claiming to be Scheduled Tribe should be proceeded against. 6) Restoration of tribal lands to the tribals.
In Barakhoma, 13 cases for land restoration were filed in the court of OSD/ land reforms (Balliguda). They were decided in the year 2001 in favour of the Vanvasis with a clear direction to the Tehsildar to deliver the possession after the appeal period is over. But restoration has not yet been effected by the local administration and the police. To date, 22 acres in Barakhoma, 7 acres in Kelapada, 5 acres in Gresinga under Udaygiri Block, besides at many other places are allegedly under illegal occupation of the Church and the Christians, which actually belong to the Vanvasis.
As such, there has been a simmering resentment against Christian Panas built up over the years. The attempts by the Panas to be categorised as Scheduled Tribe, compounded by the immediate provocation of assault on Swami Laxmananand Saraswati led to the communal clashes. These were local clashes, which were joined by the local Maoists with no conspiratorial inputs from outside.