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Kandhamal victims still await rehabilitation
New Delhi, Aug 19 (IANS):
Published on 19 Aug. 2009 11:33 PM IST
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“It was the darkest night of my life,” recalls 45-year-old Ravinder Nath Pradhan, who a year ago saw his house and paralysed brother being doused with petrol and burnt by a fanatic mob. Since then life has been drudgery, he says, and justice is “nowhere near”. “It was around 8 p.m. A mob of some 500 people attacked the village. They targeted Christian homes. The church was demolished. My house was destroyed. Within moments they flung petrol on my wheelchair-bound younger brother and torched him. We fled for our lives,” Pradhan, a retired soldier, told IANS. His peaceful village Guttergaon, in Kandhamal district, where Christians and Hindus had been living in harmony, was scarred for ever. After the violence of Aug 24, 2008, his family and a group of 120 other Christians were forced to flee their homes. They made their way to a relief camp at Bhubaneswar. “We went back once in December to reap our crop. Tension still loomed large. We (Hindu and Christian families) used to share all our joys and sorrows. Now they say a passing hello, and enquire where you are headed and that’s it,” he added. Having returned to his village now, Pradhan relies on alms from the local church for survival. “We live underneath trees where we once had our own home.” Pradhan is one of the thousands from the Kandhamal district in Orissa, where communal clashes and rampaging mobs forced over 25,000 Christians to flee from their homes and villages an year ago. The area had witnessed widespread violence following the murder of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four of his aides at his ashram Aug 23 last year. Rightwing Hindu groups held Christians responsible for Saraswati’s killing. Another victim is Kanak Rekha Nayak, 24, from Raikia village. A mother of two girls, she witnessed her husband being butchered by a mob Aug 25, 2008. “He was cut to pieces. The perpetrators went into hiding after that. But now they roam free. I see them sometimes -- they try and avoid me now,” she said, choking on her words. With support from civil society organisation Peoples Initiative for Justice and Peace (PIJP), the two, along with Nayak’s brother are in Delhi till Aug 21, to try and meet home ministry and minority affairs ministry officials and put forth a plea to ensure rehabilitation and justice for the Kandhamal victims. “We have given all into the hands of the justice system. Police and the district collector assured us that justice will be given but maybe delayed,” the victims said. According to a PIJP survey undertaken by its volunteers in Kandhamal “the state system for enforcement of law and order has broken down. Witness intimidation is rampant and the state itself seems to have surrendered ...Though there are 2,500 complaints filed with the police following the August 2008 atrocities the number of first information reports (FIRs) is only 827 and only 679 have been arrested even as 11,000 are named in the FIRs.” Speaking on behalf of PIJP, human rights activist Joseph Sebastian from NGO Indo Global Social Service Society said: “Rehabilitation of the displaced people is another grey are a since there is no reliable data of the originally displaced people and of those who have yet to go back to their homes. We demand that a census should be prepared in a time-bound manner by Sep 15 and the return of the displaced should be completed by a target date.” The organisation has also approached the Supreme Court to “take cognizance of the breakdown of the justice system and constitute a special investigation team as done in the case of Gujarat to take in fresh complaints, register FIRs and to investigate matters pertaining to the attack.”

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