Kandhamal: Introspection of Initiative for Justice is an investigation into the justice process that followed an outbreak of communal violence in the Kandhamal district of Orissa in 2007-08. The initiative assesses the performance of these processes, including witness protection, rehabilitation and Fast Track courts nearly a decade later. The Bangalore launch was held at St. Josephs College for the Arts and Sciences and co-organised by Alternative Law Forum and PUCL Karnataka. In Delhi, where this book was released at the Constitution Club, Justice AP Shah reportedly claimed that it provides a convincing overview of the “optimism of law and the depressing reality of practice”.
The purpose of writing this book now was to create visibility for the events in Kandhamal since, despite their huge scale, connectivity to the area is poor and public attention to the issue has been limited. Author Saumya Uma was introduced by Father Ajay, a priest from Kandhamal who shared stories of individuals during and immediately after the violence. Orissa was the first state in India to pass both Anti-conversion and Anti-cow slaughter Acts and he alleges that it was the complicity of the state – from the District Collector and police to those in charge of the justice process – that enabled these events to occur. Though the rioting had largely died down after August 2008, he narrated that it took nearly three years for people to return to their villages. The riots were not a sudden explosion of sentiment, he alleged, but planned and supported by the state.
The book itself is divided into sections that examine the status of relief, rehabilitation, compensation and reparations and concludes that all of them have been woefully underprovided by the State. Uma has been studying this particular issue since 2009 and has been actively involved in seeking justice for the victims. Due to her involvement in the process, this book serves not only to draw attention to the events in Kandhamal in 2007 and 2008, but also to document the challenges faced by victims and their families in society, how the official records are meagre and incomplete, how witnesses are being threatened in open court by the accused and the procedural mischief of lower courts. The book is divided into six chapters that provide an introduction and overview to:
(a) the Justice Naidu Commission Report (2015), which has been submitted but not yet introduced into the public domain,
(b) White papers on conversion released in 2007, ‘08 and ‘09 that were ignored by the state,
(c) Reparative Justice and the living situation in relief camps,
(d) The role of the criminal justice system and lack of prosecutions,
(e) The lack of adequate witness protections (with one witness having been abducted from right outside her lawyer’s office) and
(f) The use of false cases to intimidate and punish those who sought justice.
Other guests who discussed and launched the book included Prof. VS Elizabeth of NLSIU, Bangalore and Mr. Shivsundar an eminent journalist and activist with Karnataka Komu Souharda Vedike. The two of them discussed the wider climate of communal tensions today, addressing the process of ‘otherisation’ in contemporary politics, the recent RSS Meet in Goa and the roles played by ordinary people, neighbours and friends during any kind of communal riots. Prof. Elizabeth recalled her student days in Mangalore (the coastal region as well as Uttar and Dakshin Kannada were where the BJP first began consolidating their strength in Karnataka) and how Hindutva forces attempt to divide minority groups, arguing at various times that they are only opposed to Muslims, not Christians or evangelical groups, not the settled groups such as Baptists. Mr. Shivsundar turned his attention to how anything can eventually become accepted as normal whether “economy after Ambedkar, politics after Modi or journalism after Arnab”.
(Smita Mutt is pursuing the Master’s Programme in Public Policy at National Law School of India University. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)