Image Courtesy: PTI
It is not Peace if forced by the Bully
A craftily called bandh call by an Adivasi outfit, that is a front for the Sangh Parivar paralysed transport and forced shops and markets to close, ensuring no prayers at yuletide for the Christians of many villages in the Kandhamals
Kandhamal remains once more, in the headlines on the Christmas and New year of 2015. While the mainstream media reported ‘peaceful’ Christmas celebrations, these reports chose to ignore the fear and insecurity caused by the intimidation let loose on December 25, 2015, Christmas Day,by local leaders belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
Christians of Barkhama village, 13 kilomteres from Balliguda, the sub-divisional headquarters in Kandhamal district woke to find that the main road had been blocked with heavy stones and felled trees and a mob of more than one thousand persons led by local leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Rastriya Sevaka Sangh physically present to prevent any visits to the Church or celebrations. This bandh call given by the Adivasi outfit -- Kui Samaj Samanwaya Samity (KSSS) –is a front of the RSS-VHP and is the same outfit which called for a bandh both in 2007 and 2008. During the Christmas of 2007, brute violence was unleashed against the local Christian community, which further triggered the anti-Christian violence in the districts after August 25, 2008, the worst communal violence against Christian community in India, to date.
The terror-stricken leaders of the Christian community immediately informed the local police personnel as well as Special Forces deputed for Christmas celebrations. While they cleared the road, Christians were not allowed to attend Church. The community remembered the community; yet as youth leader of the village, Kartik Nayak puts it, “We could not celebrate Christmas; in place of happiness and peace, we have to live in fear and insecurity.” Christians from the district have sent a memorandum to Naveen Patnaik, Chief Minister, Odisha to ensure protection and guarantee them a life of dignity. No FIR has yet been lodged by the police authorities.
Barkhama was not an isolated incident this Christmas. The bandh affected several parts in the district. The bandh call given by this outfit was responded with many of its supporters’ (or others in fear) downing shutters of shops in the area. Buses stayed off the roads in several towns such as Tikabali, Sankarakhol, Sarangada and Barkhama ensuring that Christians living in far-flung areas could not attend Church. Christians in the area do not own shops nor have access to private transport. Thus, if bus and shop owners, participate in any bandh, Kandhamal comes to a halt. Some of these tactics played a significant role in contributing to communal violence in 2007-08 too. It may be recalled that almost every attack on Christians in this area has followed this pattern: felling of trees and blocking the roads so that the police or force could not reach the place of attacks.
The mainstream newspapers that ran the headlines declaring peaceful Christmas celebrations need to also report the successful intimidation by Sangh Parivar outfits that, in actuality, prevented Christians from celebrating Christmas; newspapers need to accurately report the fear and insecurity as well as the intimidatory tactics (which the Special forces and the Police did not counter) blocking the people’s fundamental right to attend prayer services. The district administration should take punitive action against the offenders so that this is not repeated.
The Hindu reported, ‘No untoward incident or road blocking reported from any part of the district, says SP Kunwar Vishal Singh. Kandhamal Superintendent of Police Kunwar Vishal Singh is quoted as saying that until evening no untoward incident or report of road blocking had come from any part of the district. Around 1,000 State police personnel were on duty round-the-clock since last 36 hours to maintain law and order. Apart from these, Special Operation Group (SOG) and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were involved in combing operations in remote pockets of the district’. How is it then that, despite police and special force, the rule of the Mob ensured that they could force buses off the roads and ensure the shutting down of shops? And what of the memorandum submitted to the authorities, should that not have been reproted?