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John Dayal

Justice still eludes the Christian victims, and many are to blame for it

There has been just one conviction for murder in 20 cases of the brutal killing of Christians of Kandhamal, Orissa, at the hands of Hindutva fanatics, and mobs led by them, during August--October 2008. More than two years and 9 months later the course of justice in the two special Fast Track Courts continues to be a travesty - with aberrations at all stages, from the presentation of the production case and examination of witnesses, to the coercive presence of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh goons in the court premises, often in the court room, and the role of both judges and defence lawyers.

Lawyers for the victims have no role in court other than occasionally feebly protesting to the judges - in vain - those relatives and other eye witnesses who deposed they saw the men and women being killed are being threatened blatantly. The response of the judges has been, "we have sent the orders to the police." The police have no response at all. The single biggest beneficiary of the miscarriage of justice has been Mr. Manoj Pradhan, the local Member of the State Legislature and a leader of the Bharatiya Janata party which was then a coalition partner in the government of Chief Minister Mr. Naveen Pattnaik. Mr. Pradhan is accused in over half a dozen cases, and is currently free on bail.

Investigation no doubt has been tardy and superficial - one junior gazetted officer and two inspectors head the small team trying to probe the vast number of cases with primitive forensic equipment and almost no training in probing cases of mass violence. No attempt was made to use video and mobile phone camera images that are widely available both with the victims and with the accused. In some cases, the two Fast Track Court judges have indeed passed strictures against the police investigation, and in most cases, they have found the testimony of witnesses --- victims and their relatives - either not trustworthy or insufficient to prove the offence against the accused, a review of the judgments shows.

There has been no attempt by the Directorate of Prosecutions or by the police to upgrade cases where victims died of their injuries not on the spot, but in hospital, refugee camps or other places. Under Indian legal practice, cases of attempted murder or murderous assault would automatically be upgraded to murder if the victim died of his injuries. This has prevented a large number of cases from being recorded as murder.

It may be recalled that the violence which began 24th August 2008 took a heavy toll. Over 14 of the 30 districts in the state were impacted. 6,000 houses were burnt in 400 villages, including 296 churches and smaller places of Christian worship. Over 56,000 became internally displaced persons, about 30,000 living from three months to a year in government refugee camps. Over 20,000 men, women and children spent days hiding in forests. Over 10,000 are yet to return home. About 1,000 have been warned or threatened by their neighbours they can return home if they become Hindus. Some are living in what can be called "Christian ghettos", one of which is on land provide by the district authorities who find themselves impotent in rehabilitating the Christians in their villages. The rest have left Kandhamal in fear, or in search of jobs, as they do not have any livelihood now in Kandhamal where they also face an economic blockade.]

Cutting through the fog created around the legal data, the following is the current situation of the criminal investigation of cases of arson and murder, abduction and violence. Complaints were made at the local police posts, at the regional police stations, and often directly to the offices of the Superintendent of Police in the district capital of Phulbani by registered post. In some cases, complaints were sent to the Director General of Police in Bhubaneswar when the Police stations returned complaints sent by registered post. 3,232 criminal complaints were filed when the dust settled on the Second Phase violence that began on 24th August 2008 and after peaking by about 30 August, continued sporadically through most of September and October that year.

1541 complaints are acknowledged by the Kandhamal district police, but they did not file them as the First Information Reports required under Indian Criminal law.

828 complaints were actually converted to First Information Reports [FIRs} which mark the beginning of further investigation and the case being brought before a court for trial after a charge-sheet is filed.

327 Cases have actually seen a completion of the investigation process with the cases committed to the two Fast Track Courts headed by two ad hoc Additional District Judges for day to day hearings.

169 Cases have seen the acquittal of all accused,

86 cases have ended up in convictions -- not for the heinous crimes mentioned in the FIRs as the main ones, but for comparatively minor offenses meriting only prison terms of two or three years.

90 cases still are in the process of being tried.

1597 suspects have been acquitted. This does not include the thousands who could not be arrested in the cases, and therefore could not be brought to trial.

[The Orissa State government acknowledges and admits to 52 deaths in Kandhamal in the violence of 2007 and 2008. Of them 38 are of Christians, four deaths of Hindus include those of Vishwa Hindu Parishad Vice president Lakshmananda Saraswati and three inmates of his Ashram attacked by Maoists on 23 August 2008, 4 were killed in police firing in Kotagarh of Tumlibanda Police station and G Udayagiri police station, three were policemen killed by mobs, and 3 are said to be other deaths in other Maoist attacks. Data collected by church activists lists 91 murder cases. Of them, murders with death on the spot number 38, another 41 died of injuries sustained in the violence, but at places other than the place of violence and at various times after the attacks, and 12 died in police action. These figures do not include suicides and deaths that could be medically labelled as due to post trauma syndrome among the young and aged who saw the violence at close quarters and then spent much time in refugee camps or slums.]

[Larger issues of criminal law and justice have been recorded - till mid 2010 - by Supreme Court of India Advocate Vrinda Grover in her research book "The Law must change its course´, published by MARG, a Delhi-based NGO. Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Pattnaik has admitted in a written answer in the State Legislative Assembly that of the arrested persons, over 600 were members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, and the Bajrang Dal, the militant wings of the Bharatiya Janata party, a national political party which was his coalition partner at the time of the anti Christian pogrom.]

[Jurists who have seen the records have said "There have been grave lapses on the part of each of the three, viz., the Investigating Officer, the Public Prosecutor (PP) and the Trial Judge. The Investigating Officer has failed to get the Statements of the Eye Witnesses, especially the injured witnesses recorded u/s 164 Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). The PP has failed to properly cross-examine the Eye witnesses who were turning hostile in the court. The PP also failed to get exhibited the confronted portions of the statements of the Hostile Eye Witnesses recorded prior in time u/s 161 CrPC. The Trial Judge has failed in his duty u/s 280 CrPC inasmuch as the Trial Judge has failed to record remarks regarding the demeanour of each of those eye Witnesses who were resiling from their previous statement recorded u/s 161 CrPC and who were become hostile to the prosecution. The Trial Judge has also failed to play his role to discover the truth and the Trial Judge has failed to put any court question to the hostile eye witnesses in order to discover the truth. Finally, the Trial Judge has wholly misapplied his mind and has failed to appreciate the evidence in terms of the guidelines laid down by this Hon´ble Court in several judgements. The Trial Judge has sufficient material available before him to hold that the persons facing trial were part of an unlawful assembly, the object of which was to cause inter alia homicidal death of the victims. There was also sufficient material to show participation of the accused persons in such an unlawful assembly. There was also sufficient material available to the Trial Judge to discover that the accused persons had acted in furtherance of the common object. The Trial Judge had sufficient available material before him to examine that the accused persons had been properly identified in the court and that specific roles had been ascribed to the accused persons and the Post mortem Report was corroborating the role ascribed to such accused persons in their assault with the weapons described by the witnesses."]

Landelijke India Werkgroep / India Committee of The Netherlands - June 20, 2011