Archbishop Raphael Cheenath, Bhubaneswar
Put off poll in Kandhamal, Orissa, Archbishop tells Election Commission
To Chief Election Commissioner,
Govt. of India, New Delhi
Sub: Request for postponing the Lok Sabha and Assembly Elections 2009 for the constituencies covered under Kandhamal district, Orissa in view of continuing abnormal situation caused by communal violence.
As announced by your august office the electoral process for forthcoming elections to Lok Sabha and Orissa Legislative Assembly has already commenced for the whole State of Orissa including the district of Kandhamal with effect from 2nd March 2009 and various political parties have fielded their respective candidates for different constituencies keeping an eye on the two-phase polls to be held on 16th and 23rd April 2009.
Needless to reiterate that the first and foremost requirement for holding a free and fair poll is a secure and peaceful environment where the candidates and their supporters do enjoy freedom of movement and speech to go round to every nook and corner of a constituency to meet the voters and canvas votes from them. And at the same time, the socio-cultural environment of the constituencies should be so conducive as to enable citizen who may be willing to speak out, propagate and join in any rally or meeting in favour of a party or candidate of his/her choice. However, as the entire nation knows, the situation in Kandhamal, greatly disturbed by the continuing communal holocaust since the last week of August 2008 is still very tense and abnormal, completely unsuitable to the possibility of a peaceful electoral process, let alone free and fair polls on the scheduled dates. We cite the following reasons as to why we consider the Kandhamal situation as exceptionally abnormal and therefore unsuitable to the scheduled holding of Lok Sabha and Assembly Polls -
There are still nearly 3,200 persons living in the refugee camps run by the Government in different places of Kandhamal. Their houses were destroyed/burnt away and valuables looted by the communalist miscreants during the riots beginning from last week of August 2008. In the process their Voter Identity Cards were also lost away. The efforts made by the Government to provide the duplicate Voter Identity Cards to these hapless refugees is neither complete nor satisfactory. They know not whether their names are enrolled in the Voters´ List and where they have to go to exercise their franchise.
At a conservative estimate about 50 thousand persons of Kandhamal belonging to minority community of Christians comprising both SCs and STs and Hindu Dalits were affected by the communal violence that raged for months together. While a faction of the affected lot preferred to take shelter in the Government run refugee camps in and outside Kandhamal including Cuttack and Bhubaneswar, a considerable number, out of a mortal fright altogether fled Kandhamal to unknown destinations leaving their house, valuables, cattle and crops behind just to save their life. The worst affected are the women. Till date the Government has not made any survey whatsoever of these people and no body knows where they are at present. There is no possibility at all that such people would ever be able to return within a short span of time to their respective villages, to re-arrange the Voter Identity Cards lost in the riots and exercise their franchise in the forthcoming elections. And needless to say, the elections if at all held bypassing such a big faction of Kandhamal electorate would produce a fractured verdict to the glee of rioters and miscreants who always want the election to be held without the affected minority and Dalit members being able to exercise their franchise.
As regards the thousands of members of refugee camps, who as per the Government records have returned to their respective villages, their condition is also equally pitiable. On nagging pressure by the Government officials the refugees, batch after batch, left the camps on different dates supposedly to resume their life in their respective villages. But as soon as they reached their villages, they were threatened by a hostile crowds led by the communalist miscreants with a serious warning, which went on thus - To live in the village, you must leave Christianity, reconvert to Hinduism, pay fine, withdraw all cases and vote for our candidate, otherwise you won´t be allowed to stay on in the village. After getting such hostile treatment some families returned again to the refugee camps and many others left Kandhamal for unknown destinations in and outside the State. The Government has not made any survey of the numbers and present conditions of such families. And there is no possibility at all that these families would ever be able to exercise their franchise in the coming elections.
As is well known, there is increasing incidence of violence in different pockets of Kandhamal by both extremist groups, namely Maoists and M-2. The first group targets the hindutva fundamentalists while the second group, strangely enough, targets its retaliation, not against Maoists as such but against the selected leaders of minority and Dalit community. As a result, the overall atmosphere of Kandhamal is charged with both extremist and communal violence of every sort, leading to cessation of free movement and free expression on the part of the common people. Since the State machinery has conspicuously failed to nab the frontline leaders of such extremist outfits till date, it is also very much likely that they can destroy polling booths and polling process at any place at any time victimizing the common voters in the process. It is a fact that a section of innocent Adivasis and Dalits were somehow implicated in various non-bailable charges concerning riots, while the real masterminds and ring leaders were let loose by the Government to continue their acts of violence against minority and Dalits. The innocent persons so charged are found to be taking shelter in forests and strange places and leading a life of under-grounder all the while as a part of their hide-and-seek game with police. There is no possibility at all that such innocent Adivasis and Dalits be ever able to participate in the canvassing activities during the electoral process or exercise their franchise in the coming polls.
The atmosphere of Kandhamal is still pervaded by the air of communal violence against minority and Dalits as fanned out by the fundamentalist hindutva forces aided by rabidly anti-Dalit verbalizations indulged in by the so-called Kui leaders. And the State machinery instead of nabbing such open advocates of communal and caste violence are found to be providing special protection to some of them and thereby vitiating further the already polarized and communalized society of Kandhamal. In such a situation there is no possibility at all for the poor, unorganized members of minority or Dalit community to come out in the open to participate in the electoral process, let alone caste their votes on the day of polls. Till recently the leadership of the affected people thought that situation would improve, with the intervention of the state in the context of the elections. But, day by day the scenario it is deteriorating. From different sources I hear that as the election is fast approaching many those who are in Kandhamal fearing backlash, are planning to leave Kandhamal.
Under the circumstances, when there is no possibility on the part of a massive chunk of Kandhamal electorate comprising especially the minority Christians and Hindu Dalits to take part in the electoral process as free citizens and when the entire atmosphere of Kandhamal is still rent with aggressive communalism and extremist violence, and when the State machinery can´t possibly restore justice, peace and harmony in the given short span of time, and above all when there is no possibility of the people of Kandhamal exercising their right to vote freely and fearlessly, I as citizen of this country and leader of the Christians in Orissa, Most Rev. Raphael Cheenath SVD, Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, earnestly request that the proposed elections to Lok Sabha and Orissa Legislative Assembly in all constituencies of Kandhamal district be postponed to a future date, when an ideal situation will have been restored in full.
Archbishop Raphael Cheenath,