A 'people's tribunal' that heard testimonies from victims of anti-Christian violence in India's eastern Orissa state in 2008 has criticised state agencies for aggravating the suffering of those caught up in the attacks - writes Anto Akkara.
"There is a shocking level of institutional bias on the part of state agencies (including police) leading to their collusion in the violence, connivance in efforts to block the subsequent process of justice and accountability," declared the jury in New Delhi at the end of the unofficial 22-24 August 2010 National People's Tribunal on the violence in Orissa's Kandhamal jungles.
"After hearing these testimonies, all that I can say is that I hang my head in shame as an Indian," lamented A. P. Shah, a retired chief justice of Delhi high court who headed the jury of eminent people from different walks of life. All the jurors were non-Christians with the exception of Ruth Manorama, who is a member of the Church of South India.
The jury urged a special investigation by India's federal government into violence against Christians by Hindu extremists following the slaying of Hindu leader Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati in August 2008.
While the Orissa government acknowledged 42 deaths, activists presented affidavits to the tribunal stating that more than 90 people had been killed, and 300 churches and 5400 Christian houses had been looted and destroyed, creating more than 54,000 displaced people in Kandhamal.
Catholic Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, which includes Kandhamal, was among those present as the tribunal jury pronounced its verdict.
"Our aim is to bring forward the complete truth and deprivation suffered by Kandhamal people, and ensure justice and rehabilitation to the victims," Ram Puniyani, a Hindu activist from Mumbai, told ENInews.
Puniyani is one of the coordinators of the National Solidarity Forum, a coalition of more than 50 social action groups that organised the tribunal that marked the second anniversary of the violence.
Kanaklata Nayak, whose husband was killed in front of her, told the tribunal that she was forced to flee Kandhamal with her young children due to threats she received after testifying in a local court against the alleged killers.
The tribunal accused the Orissa administration of "underestimating the magnitude" of the violence in Kandhamal that continued for weeks with the state government making few apparent attempts to curb it.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International  is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]