Imnasenla Pongener

“Nobody is allowed on this place of Krishna to practise Christ’s Glory…Nobody will dream of Christ here.” – Gauri Prasad Rath, State Secretary, VHP, Odisha.

The documentary poster
Courtesy: Vimochana Production

Five years have passed since the Christians of Kandhamal, Odisha fell victim to a bout of communal frenzy. Even today they are struggling to get back to normalcy, their lives blighted by fear and intimidation.

A documentary film by Shailendra Boora ‘Kandhamal Unresolved’ talks about the struggles of the victims who are denied peace and justice, the hate-campaign carried out by the Sangh Parivar, and the relationship between the Hindu and Adivasi identities. The film is dedicated to the people of Kandhamal and was shot in August, 2012. The screening was organized by BSF-UoH at the Ambedkar Auditorium. The documentary will be screened at VIBGYOR International Film Festival on 12th February.

The turmoil began when Hindu fundamentalists alleged that the murder of Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati on 23rd August, 2008 was committed by Christians. A procession was carried out. It is believed have triggered the anti-Christian riots. Homes belonging to Dalit Christians were destroyed and an estimated 13,500 Christians were forced to flee to their villages or refugee camps, leaving behind those who had died. Many women including a nun were raped. Following this riot, police cases were registered by the hundreds but no one was convicted. Those who were, managed to get out on bail. The RSS, VHP, Sangh Parivar and even the MLA of G. Udaygiri, Manoj Pradhan were believed to have played a role in fanning the riots.

In the film, Ramakrishna Panda, State Secretary, CPI says, “Sangh Parivar and RSS have created a fear psychosis among the people due to which people refuse to go to the court as witnesses to the crimes.” Many said that the justice delivery system is not independent and that the judges are biased and influenced by the ideology of Hindutva. “Justice is denied due to organized, pre-planned and meditated attacks to blockade easy access to justice,” said Archbishop John Barua.

The film starts off with a mob barging past a gate and destroying everything in and around a church. Cars, bikes and cycles were piled up and burned down. Crosses were taken down. The shots that follow are those of the people of Kandhamal talking about what they had lived through. They said that those who were caught by the rioters were forced to convert to Hinduism, made to drinking water mixed with cow-dung, and had their heads shaved. The less fortunate were tortured and put to death.

Though it was evident that Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati had been killed by Maoists, the Hindu fundamentalists continued blaming Christians. The fear in Kandhamal was evident and people who fled were not allowed back until they agreed to conversion. Bhupender Singh Punia, District Collector, claims that the situation is back to normal. However, people said that it was due to fear and lack of options outside that they were bound to stay put.

“Nothing… Ours is a secular state; who increases or decreases, doesn’t matter. But, people react in a different way,” said Manas Pradhan, a Hindu Kandho when asked what problems Hindus would face if the number of Christians increased. It was evident that the riots also involved problems created by caste differences.

After the screening, Shailendra Boora said, “The film brings out boldly the various issues concerning the communal violence at Kandhamal.” He spoke of the Dalit-Adivasi conflict which provided a new perspective for examining the riots. Apart from the miscarriage of justice, people in Kandhamal continue to live in darkness, facing discrimination, deprivation and suspicion. But things might change. The victims have formed themselves into Kandhamal Nyaya Samhati O Sadbhavana Samaja, a platform campaigning for peace and justice.