Kandhamal- Challenging A.P. Shah's ex-parte verdict

  • By Prasanna Parida
  • September 2010

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[On Aug. 24, a self-appointed  ‘people’s tribunal’ headed by Mr A.P. Shah, former Chief Justice of Delhi High  Court, declared that the ‘victims’ of the 2008 violence in Kandhamal, Orissa,  continue to suffer intimidation, and demanded state government protection for  them. He wanted a special investigation team to re-examine allegations of sexual  assault despite the fact that the most sensational rape case is falling apart  in the sessions court at Cuttack! No attempt was made to balance the picture –  to even acknowledge the brutal assassination of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati  and his disciple-sanyasis in his own ashram in Jalaspeta on Janmasthami day,  Aug. 23, 2008.
Such is the state of indecent bias  of persons holding exalted positions in the Indian judiciary. Justice Shah  whined at not being elevated to the Supreme Court after his judgment de-criminalising  homosexuality in India, and was supported by jurists who ran for cover after  the Bhopal Gas Tragedy verdict exposed their role in India’s worst industrial  crime. With the evidence of Justice Shah’s unwarranted and one-sided activism  on Kandhamal before us – the organisers and jury of the illicit tribunal  consistently refused to let tribal activist Hillary Singh to present his case  before the gathering despite receiving detailed documentary evidence of his  sufferings at the hands of the Christian fundamentalists – we can only say it  is a blessing that this vicious anti-Hindu was not elevated to the apex court. Vijayvaani presents the usually purged side of the story – Editor]

Real victims speak up
On Aug. 23, over hundred tribals from Kandhamal  district gathered at Jantar Mantar in the capital to protest against the  unrelenting religious aggression, violent attacks, land grab, forced  conversions, forged caste certificates, destruction of places of worship,  eviction from houses, and arrests of innocent tribals on false charges.

The tribals expressed outrage that the  murderers of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati remain at liberty, with  investigations rendered stagnant by official apathy. Worse, hundreds of  innocent tribals were falsely implicated in 1043 cases registered following the  high tension that followed the murders. Tribals from neighbouring villages  allege they were implicated from the voter list! In the Baliguda SDJM GR case  no. 203/08, the FIR consists of 213 names from 13 villages and 2000 others. The  names in the FIR follow a pattern that tallies with the voter lists of the  concerned villages. This certainly discredits the nature of the investigation.

At the Jantar Mantar meeting, Hillary Singh  from Alanjori village told the gathering that his was the lone tribal family  left in a village completely converted to Christianity. Thereafter, he was  constantly induced and in 2005 threatened to convert to Christianity, or face  ‘serious’ consequences. When the family refused to submit, it had to face a  social boycott. Finally, fearing death at the hands of their neighbours, the  family was forced to leave the village on 27 December 2007, leaving all their  belongings behind. Hillary’s life savings and belongings were looted and he had  to start life afresh in Brahmanigaon village. The authorities have turned a  deaf ear to his pleas… Similar stories were narrated throughout the dharna.
The demonstrators lamented the systematic  manipulation of revenue records in favour of SCs who are misrepresented as tribals,  primarily Kondh tribal, as they speak the Kui language. This damages the tribal  people who have no recorded land rights. The missionaries facilitate SCs in  manipulating land records and availing financial incentives – the majority of  Pana (SC community) are Christian.

Orissa government reports show that the 52%  Kondhs (Kandhas) own less than 10% of the land in Kandhamal district. The  tribals say the sub-collector admitted that land records have been skewed. The  official investigating land record frauds explained the process by which  Christian Panas gain control of tribal lands and also gain official recognition  as a tribal:

- A Pana convinces a  Kondh tribal to sell the land. Both come to the Registrar’s office to recordthe sale and get a copy of the land sale deed. In order to circumvent the total  ban on sale of tribal lands to non-tribals, fraudulent means are employed. The  Pana enters his caste as ‘Kondh’ on the document, and as the Registrar’s job is  only to collect the stamp duty for the sale, he has no reason to doubt or  investigate such a claim.

- Once the sale deed is  completed, the Pana owns the land and the land records reflect his caste  identity as Kondh. Then the Pana goes to the Tehsildar and obtains a Tribal  certificate and is thus legally identified as a Scheduled Tribe Kondh.

- In this sly and  criminally manipulative manner, Christian Panas have stripped the tribal  Kandhas of their lands, their legally entitled Government jobs, and their  tribal identity.

- The Panas have the  support of institutional agencies and NGOs and imperil the very life and  existence of the Kondhs and their faith and culture. This violates the  letter and spirit of the Constitution, which envisages protection of faith and  culture and upholds secularism. 

Eating cake
In this manner, the Christian Panas are keeping  their cake and eating it too. As Scheduled Castes they are entitled to benefits  within the Hindu fold. As Christians, the foreign largesse provided by the  Church raises their social status above the Kandhas, who resent it. So, when the  Christian Panas began their drive to usurp the very identities of the Kandhas  through land fraud, illegal tribal certification and finally by manipulating  the Constitution and legal system, the Kandhas responded.

To add to the turmoil, the Christian Panas  began in 1981 a movement for official recognition as a Scheduled Tribe,  specifically, as Kui tribe, though Kui is the native language of the Kandhas  and not a tribe! This disturbed the Kondhs who saw it as yet another attack  upon their identity and rights. They strongly opposed the Tribes Advisory  Council for combining “Kandha” with “Kui” in the tribal list in Orissa.  Kandhamal District Kui Samaj Coordination Committee leader Lambodar Kanhar said  ‘Kandha’ and ‘Kui’ are synonymous as ‘Kui’ means Kandha.

Following allegations of flourishing fake  tribal certificates, the Orissa government asked the Tribes Advisory Council to  delete ‘Kui’ from the list of tribes as several Kui-speaking non-tribals,  especially Panas, obtained ST certificates. At Jantar Mantar, the tribal  leaders presented a list of 145 Panas who have obtained government jobs on the  basis of illegal tribal certificates.

In 1997, the Christian Panas made a major  political effort to create a language-based identity. As Kui is a tribal  language, they proposed that all Kui speakers be identified as tribals. In the  President of India’s Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Orders (Amendment)  Act, 2002, the name Kui was added [Act of Parliament, No.10 of 2003;  President’s assent on Jan. 7, 2003].

But the efforts by Panas to be notified as  Kui-speaking Tribals were strongly resented by the Kandha tribals; their  frenzied legal and social confrontation prevented the Christian Panas from  getting legal status as tribals.

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