In his answer, the chief minister said that members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Viswa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajarang Dal (BD) were involved in the violence. He said that 85 members of the RSS, 321 from the VHP and 118 from the BD had been arrested. Houses were burnt or destroyed in all 13 police precincts in the district and that 27 people are still in prison.
Last year’s events are also hotly debated in the Union parliament in New Delhi where it has drawn national and international attention.
Leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have been accused of direct involvement in the 1992 destruction of the Babri Masjid (mosque) in Gujarat, which led to disorders during which 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed.
Patnaik’s statement is a decisive move towards revealing what happened during the August 2008 anti-Christian riots. Until now, the Orissa government had always eluded the issue of Hindu involvement, choosing instead to see the events as ethnic clashes among Tribals.
Mgr Raphael Cheenath, archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, spoke to AsiaNews. “The government of Orissa has now admitted that Hindu radical organisations were behind the massacre of innocent Christians,” he said. “Now we shall have to wait and see whether they will be brought to justice.”
Lawyer Dibakar Parichha, who has followed the legal affairs of pogrom victims, said, “837 cases have been filed and more than 3,000 statements have taken by police in relation to events in 415 villages. Yet only 27 people are on trial; the rest are free. When the men responsible for fires, abductions and murders are still in the streets, how can anyone speak about peace and justice?”
On 19 November, the special court set up in Orissa to try cases connected to the 2008 pogrom sentenced nine people to four years in prison and a 3,500 rupee (US$ 80) fine. Yet, the number of acquittals is greater than the number of convictions and this despite irrefutable evidence against the accused.
Lawyer Rasmi Ranjan Jena spoke to AsiaNews about why justice in Kandhamal is hard to achieve. “Investigations have been compromised by prejudice and bad police work,” he said. “Information about those arrested has been poorly collected and has failed to stand up in court. Victims and witnesses still feel socially and physically insecure inside and outside courtrooms. Witnesses have been threatened. The absence of democratic or rightwing parties able to stand up to the BJP and the RSS helps offenders and creates an unhealthy atmosphere in courtrooms.”
Orissa Christians still fear that they might still meet their attackers in the streets of their villages. A climate of impunity prevails, especially for the top leaders of Hindu movements, and reinforces the concerns that peace and justice might never be achieved. The acquittal on a number of charges of Manoj Pradhan, a BJP leader and lawmaker for Bhubaneswar, is a case in point.
Now that Patnaik has publicly acknowledged the role played by the RSS, VHP and BD in the pogrom, the situation might change. However, John Dayal, member of the All India Christian Council and the National Integration Council has no illusions. “We must first see how parliament responds to Patnaik’s statement and his admission of nationalists’ involvement.”