Media and ‘secular’ political parties followed the Church in blaming ‘Hindu groups’ for last year’s violence in Kandhamal district of Orissa. The interim report of the Justice Mohapatra Commission of Inquiry nails this and other lies and exposes the role of evangelists
Remember Kandhamal? And all the brouhaha created by the media blaming ‘Hindu groups’ for the unrest in the tribal district of Orissa after the killing of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati? And the TV cameras never noticing the anguish of the shocked children housed in Jaleshpata hermitage that witnessed the murder of the 84-year-old Swami and his four followers on August 23 last year?
Well, the truth is almost out; and it’s official. It virtually vindicates an article published on this page last year (November 11): “The other side of the Kandhamal story: Tribals disinherited.” It had laid threadbare the social and cultural divisions between the Kandha and the Pana communities, and how Christian evangelists were fuelling the violence in Kandhamal.
The Kandhas, who are tribals, were up in arms against the Panas, listed as one of the Scheduled Castes, for trying to usurp their land and corner other benefits with the help of some evangelists.
Recently, the Justice Sarat Chandra Mohapatra Commission, whose remit was to probe the Kandhamal violence, has submitted its interim report to the Home Department of the Orissa Government. The commission, headed by Justice Mohapatra, a former Lok Pal, has attributed the socio-economic problems as the prime provocation for the violence. The report says nothing about the much-touted ‘Hindu-groups’.
“The violence in Kandhamal was the result of concentrated discontentment prevailing among the people since long. They relate to conversion, re-conversion; land-grabbing and non-maintenance of land records; and fake certificate issues,” Justice Mohapatra told this writer. Though he refused to elaborate on who these “discontented” people are, it is obvious that they are the tribals — the Kandhas.
Putting to rest all debate about rampant religious conversion in Kandhamal, Justice Mohapatra says: “In spite of the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, illegal conversions were taking place, which created discontentment.”
It is important here to get an overview of the social and cultural divisions that are understood to be the main reasons of the violence in Kandhamal. The area has two major inhabitants — the tribal Kandhas constitute 52 per cent of the population while the Schedule Caste Panas account for 19 per cent of the population. The rift between the two is nothing new. The Kandhas have a history of vociferous resistance to religious conversion by evangelists. On the other hand, over the years, a majority of the Panas, forced by the evangelists, has embraced Christianity, leading to an increase in the Christian population of the district from a mere 19,128 in 1951 to 1,17,950 in 2001. Of the total Christian population in the district, 60 per cent are converted Panas.
After successfully converting a sizeable section of the Panas, evangelists have long been eying the Kandhas for conversion. They have been trying to convert the tribals through inducement, fraud and force and have succeeded to some extent. They continue to destroy the traditional shrines of the Kandhas, thus instigating anti-Hindu sentiments among the Panas. This has repeatedly led to communal polarisation.
Nine months after it was asked to inquire into last year’s violence and the circumstances leading to the killing of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, the Justice Mohapatra Commission seems to have made some headway.
It is learned that the 28-page report says land is being grabbed illegally by the Panas. It’s a fact that a section of the Panas has encroached upon vast stretches of land which originally belongs to the Kandhas. As per the land regulation law of Orissa, non-tribals can neither buy nor take possession of land from tribal owners.
Besides the issues of conversion and land-grab, Justice Mohapatra’s report also mentions the issue of fake certificates as another cause of the conflict. “There are people who are neither SC nor ST but possess fake certificates claiming to be one. These certificates are being freely issued,” says Justice Mohapatra.
The report has seemingly taken note of harassed Kandhas, whose socio-economic aspirations have been stymied by the politically-backed Panas who also enjoy the backing of evangelists. Sensing the benefits of reservation as well as sops doled out by the evangelists, many Pana Christians, who have lost their SC tag after conversion to Christianity, have managed to secure false caste certificates. Some of the Pana Christians also submit fake tribal certificates for Government jobs and to grab land and reap quota benefits in education.
Several officials and politicians face allegations of issuing these bogus certificates. Reports suggest that there are as many as 600 such allegations which are being investigated. Prominent among those against whom such have been levelled include Rajya Sabha MP and 1962 batch IAS officer Radhakanta Nayak, former BJD MP from Phulbani Sugrib Singh and former DGP of Orissa John Nayak.
The three factors suggested by Justice Mohapatra outline how tribals are being deprived of their fundamental rights in their own land.
Meanwhile, the interim report has triggered differences among Christians. While the evangelists and their followers have rejected the report for its remarks against conversion, the Poor Christian Liberation Movement has said that it considers the reported findings to be serious points of reflection. The PCLM has urged church leaders to study the report carefully rather than rejecting it as “one-sided” and “fictitious”.
The commission has suggested that the Orissa Government should address the problem by taking remedial measures on issues of religious conversion, land disputes and fake SC/ST certificates. The commission has so far examined five witnesses of the Government, a number of local people and received 320 affidavits.
“It will take at least two years to complete the inquiry, but the interim report will help the Government to intervene immediately,” Justice Mohapatra says.
The question remains whether the BJD Government headed by Mr Naveen Patnaik will take the necessary measures.