Kandhamal: Challenging A.P. Shah’s ex-parte verdict
by Prasanna Parida on 27 Aug 2010 18 Comments

[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 record the 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.


Illegal land transfer of Kandhas


A fundamental cause of conflict is the issue of land alienation of the tribal people. The Communist parties had submitted a memorandum to then Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil identifying land disputes as the root cause of the violence in the district. They had demanded a special task force of the Revenue Department to resolve the matter.


Dr Krishna Kumar, Kandhamal District Magistrate, had said, “The tribals have been around forever. They are the original dwellers here. They never had to prove that they owned the land. I mean why would they? In the early 1990s the tribal lands opened up. Pattas, a certificate indicating ownership of land, began to be given out. The tribes have a complex social structure within themselves; they had given land to neighbours for various reasons. When they had to prove ownership of the land, they could not. The actual users of the land who were non-tribals claimed the ownership of the land.”


Traditional relations between the Panas and Kandhas were shattered by Christianity, which converted the majority of the Pana and probably inspired them to claim the land. The Kandhas incurred debts with merchants whom they had over the decades given their land for shops and depots; not understanding the subtleties of commerce, they would be out-manoeuvred. Often, liquor was involved.


In one case, Mera Mallick, Saku Mallick, Puresar Mallick and Ganja Mallick of Rebingia village said the Christian Panas had stolen more than 20 acres of their land, which they have been unable to reclaim despite repeated requests to various government agencies. Dr. A.C. Sahoo, Director, Rural Development Dept., Directorate of Academy of Tribal Dialect & Culture, Orissa, said the Kandhas were blatantly disinherited from their lands. Having intimately studied tribals in Orissa for over 30 years, Sahu observed, “Some Kandhas lost their lands to the Panas by incurring vast debts due to their drinking habits. Having no money, yet wanting wine, they would give up their land claims.” More recently, tribal lands have been sold to major industrial houses, but not by the tribals, but by non-tribals.


Land is vital to tribal identity. For example, Wataka is a tribal region and the tribes there bear the surname Wataka. Their lands are also their Temples and for generations they have worshipped and sacrificed on this land. Thus the very core of their identity is intimately tied to the land, religion and traditions. The loss of land strips the tribes of their identity.


P.C. Dogra, IPS (retd), pointed out: In Barakhoma, 13 cases for land restoration were filed in the court of OSD, Land Reforms, Balliguda. In 2001 they were decided in favour of the tribals with a clear direction to the Tehsildar to deliver possession after the appeal period is over. But restoration has not yet been effected by the local administration and the police. To date, 22 acres in Barakhoma, 7 acres in Kelapada, 5 acres in Gresinga under Udaygiri Block, and many other places remain under illegal occupation of the Church and the Christians.


It must be understood that to the Kandhas, the earth is not something to be used, not a possession, nor object of exploitation, but a living entity and an object of worship. It is sacred and intimate. Their habits, social customs and religious belief are linked to land only. One important legend states that the Earth deity was the first Kandha woman who came out of the earth and at her own request became the first human sacrifice. This act imposed on obligation on the Kandhas to make regular offerings of blood to propitiate her. In exchange, she would grant fertility and wellbeing. The earth thus became the spiritual ancestor through whom lineal descent, the belief goes, could be traced. All are born of her.


Cultivating the earth was fraught with guilt and fear, an act of pollution or defilement. Rites are performed and a sacrifice made to propitiate her. Fertility of land depends on whether the deity is appeased. Drought and famine follow neglect in making the necessary offerings to the deity. The blood sacrifice ritual is a vital aspect of Kandha worship. Land links the Kandhas to their past and future and gives them their identity. The secret sale of land is not allowed; transactions are between family groups, and not between individuals.


Psychologically therefore, land alienation for Kandhas means more than loss of real estate. It is equal to the loss of a body part or vital organ. Yet Kandhas have lost a majority of their land rights. Worse, the tribals found it very difficult to legally defend their ownership of their lands and settle possession disputes because of their poverty and total ignorance of Revenue and Forest Acts.


The Lok Sabha debate (Oct. 24, 2008) on Kandhamal showed some of the ground realities. Highlighting land alienation as a major cause of the turmoil, Mr Kharabela Swain, MP from Balasore, said: “Nearly a year ago, the Scheduled Castes, that is, the Panas - who have been converted to Christianity - filed a case in the Supreme Court and demanded that just like the Gujjars in Rajasthan they should also be given Scheduled Tribe status. All are very well aware as to what all happened in Rajasthan. … In Kandhamal, the Christian Panas are demanding that they should be given the Scheduled Tribe status, and the Kandhas are objecting to it. Why are they objecting to it? …. (Interruptions) It is because of the present day rule…that a non-tribe cannot buy a tribal’s land… the Kandhas or the tribals are thinking that if the Panas or the Scheduled Castes become tribals, then they will buy all the land that belongs to the tribals… They have two other allegations. The Pana Christians are educationally and financially better off. By virtue of their education and better contacts with Government machinery, they have appropriated most of the land belonging to tribals. The pattas (ownership titles) of the land which tribals have been cultivating hundreds of years have gone to the Scheduled Castes; without their knowledge.”


Mr Swain also spoke about the Christian Panas’ fraudulent use of certificates for government entitlements. The Scheduled Castes, who have converted to Christianity, are better educated and have procured false certificates as tribals and got Government jobs. He alleged that a sitting Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha is actually a Pana Christian who got a false certificate as a tribal and got into the IAS. The CBI is investigating the case… Thus the Kandhas find that the Pana Christians are manipulating everything to deprive the STs of their land, of their jobs.


The Church too, has encroached upon tribal land. There is one church in Masiripada (revenue village Kulukipada); one in Dangirikia (revenue village Dangirikia); one in Karandagada (revenue village Darandagada); and two in Taladandikia (revenue village Taladandikia).


Land alienation has caused outbreaks of violence since the 1970s, if not before. In Kandhamal in December 2007, the homes of 35 Christian families were attacked. But the land they were built upon was owned by a Kandha tribal named Disuka Mallik - plot #271/2001 [Baligauda Court records]. He won the lawsuit and the encroaching Christian Panas were given a Court order to leave the property. But the order was never enforced by the police or district administration. During a protest march organized by the Kandhas, they were attacked from a nearby Christian Pana Church. In response, the Kandhas took the opportunity to attack the homes on the land in an effort to reclaim their rightful property.


Unfortunately, the national and international media vilified this as yet ‘another horrific incident of anti-Christian ethnic cleansing perpetrated by violent fanatic Hindu supporters of the RSS and BJP’. Yet the incident proves that violence is a last resort by Kandhas.


There are many more such cases of land alienation that are either still pending in the Courts or have been decided in favour of the Kandhas. But despite Court rulings in favour of the Kandhas, the Government refuses to act to remove the Christian Pana squatters or restore the property rights of the tribes. From 1991-2007 alone, the Kandhas had filed 3574 cases of land disputes in the courts; involving a land area of 220.81 hectares. Only 1410 cases have been adjudicated upon and most of the land has yet to be restored to the Kandha people.


When there is no justice, there can be no peace. These cases are not just the claims of 3574 people. Each represents a large social network of families, friends and communities; in other words, the frustrations of hundreds of people. A father’s inability to regain his family land is a defeat, humiliation and loss to the entire family. The sense of powerlessness is overwhelming. The tight knit Kandha tribal community is totally interdependent; there are few opportunities to function independently. Thus 3574 cases of disempowerment, spanning a generation, have a debilitating effect upon an entire people.


As there are many more Kandha who lack the experience and ability to file land claims, these cases are only a partial representation of the problem. The absolute failure of Government authorities to execute the judicial mandate represents a fundamental breakdown of the system and disrupts the social harmony of a people. Even during the 1994 Kandhamal riots, the illegal and forcible possession of lands belonging to ST (Kandha) community by members of SC (Pana) community was held to be a principal cause of the trouble.


Illegal Conversions


After the Second World War, Western-based Christian evangelists developed a world conversion agenda, as an organised political response to Communism. India has long been a target.


A well circulated document entitled, AD 2000 plan for Orissa, by Reverend Pariccha, caused consternation amongst Oriyas. The document gave a detailed breakdown of Orissa’s villages, districts, towns, cities, police stations, including a list of village police stations with Christian officers, in order to “identity the least evangelized areas.” The AD 2000 Plan for Orissa openly states it’s “purpose is to survey and research to find out the exact population of the Unreached People groups - to make available all statistics from all possible sources that are required for strategic planning to reach the unreached.”


Its goals are listed as:

-        That Orissa may be won for Christ.

-        To reach every major people group

-        To reach every village and plant churches.

-        To send missionaries to every unreached Pin Code area.


The comprehensive and strategic methodologies revealed are an assault on the very cultural fabric and identity of Orissa. The stated goals say, “Orissa’s non-Christians are in darkness and that their religion, culture and tradition are of little or no value and need to be replaced.” Christians have not come to add to the native spirituality of Orissa, but to replace it; they are engaged in aggressive hostility.


As far back as 1955, the Centrally-appointed Christian Missionary Activities Enquiry Committee of Nagpur, Madhya Pradesh, headed by Justice M.B. Niyogi, found that “As conversion muddles the convert’s sense of unity and solidarity with his society, there is danger of his loyalty to his country and State being undermined. A vile propaganda against the religion of the majority community is being systematically and deliberately carried on so as to create on apprehension of breach of public peace.” The Niyogi Commission expressed serious concerns regarding the negative methods and impact of missionaries in India and made several recommendations to curb their activities.


In Kandhamal and elsewhere in Orissa, missionaries are indulging in illegal conversions without fear of government reprisals. In 1961, the total Kandha population in Kandhamal was 19028. In 2001, the Christian population was 117,954 – a six-fold increase! Though the population has risen by over 98,000 persons, only two persons have submitted declarations for conversion. This is surely the most eloquent indicator of the illegal conversion industry in Kandhamal.  


The author is an Orissa tribal activist and secretary of the Kandhamal Justice Forum

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