Port.32/2019 (3-b-10/CBCI-GC) 30th January, 2019
KANDHAMAL REVISITED: NATIONAL CONSULTATION ON THE CASES OF THE SEVEN INNOCENTS AND RELATED ISSUES HELD AT THE CBCI CENTRE
A National Consultation to discuss status of the situation in Kandhamal and about the cases related to the communal violence there in 2008 was held at the CBCI Centre on 29th January 2019. over a hundred people were brutally killed, thousands of Christian homes and Christian places of worship damaged or destroyed and tens of thousands of Christians were forced to flee their villages to refugee camps "after their houses were attacked by rampaging mobs. The Consultation attended by Most Rev John Barwa, Archbishop of Cuttack- Bhubaneshwar under which Kandhamal falls, was chaired by the Secretary General of CBCI, Most Rev Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas. Rev Fr. Jervis D'Souza, Deputy Secretary General of CBCI, Sr. Lalita Roshni, Assistant Secretary of the CBCI office for Tribal Affairs, Rev. Fr Ajay Kumar Singh, Adv. Rev. Fr. Dibya Singh Parichha, Dr John Dayal, Mrs. Sonia Daniel, Director Projects of EFI, Dr Michael Williams, President, United Christian Forum, Sr. Adv. Teresa Paul, Mr. Anto Akara and ten advocates led by Mrs. Tehmina Arora of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). Renowned activist and Lawyer who has been one of the eminent lawyers heading the legal battle Adv. Vrinda Grover participated and provided much input for discussions.
Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, Secretary General of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, welcomed the participants. In the name of the President of the CBCI Cardinal Oswald Gracias and the Bishops of India as well as the Catholic Church in India he thanked all those who over the last ten years have assisted, helped and have labored in very difficult and sometimes hostile circumstances to bring relief and legal help to the affected people. The Secretary General explained that this meeting was called at the request of Archbishop John Barwa, Adv. Fr. Dibya and other activists who felt that there was a need for all those aiding our legal and other battles to come together and revisit the actual status of our interventions in Kandhamal following the refusal of bail to seven Christians who have been falsely implicated in the killing of Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati. Bishop Theodore underlined the need for patience and perseverance and praised the participants for their efforts in dealing with the case of the seven innocents, the cases of recompensation for the victims and the cases for justice against the rioters. He expressed gratitude to Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of happy memory and Archbishop John Barwa for leading the fight for justice through legal and other means. Bishop Theodore also thanked Mr. John Dayal, who has been an untiring warrior, the ADF for their active role, Frs. Dibya and Ajay for their contributions, Mr. AC Michael for his proactive role in organizing this meeting. Mrs. Vrinda Grover came in for special appreciation because she, Adv. Colin Gonsalves, Adv. Rebecca John and other legal luminaries with their pro bono services have been the pillars of strength for the fight for justice. He pointed out that Mr. Anto Akkara has been probing the political and communal angles of the case with much courage and determination. Bishop Theodore also cautioned that whatever steps we take should be in favour of delivering justice to the victims but also making sure that old wounds are not reopened and our final aim should be to work for a complete reconciliation and promote peace and social harmony.
During the day long consultation, Fr. Dibya explained that the bail plea for the seven innocents was summarily dismissed without much discussion. He and Fr. Ajay told the participants that the cases were being conducted in a very hostile legal climate. Fr. Dibya pointed out that over 315 cases against rioters have been reopened in the trial court, as many as 150 cases have not been tried and 284 cases have been partly heard and are pending in the Sessions Court. As of now 493 people have been convicted in 78 cases and another 170 cases of appeals and reviews are coming up for hearing in the High court. Two rape cases are also under trial.
He and other activists pointed out that there was a need for Central Coordination and requested that the CBCI take up the leadership and provide the direction. Participants pointed out that at this crucial stage funds are needed in a big way. They suggested that a central fund be created at the CBCI and both the Catholic Church and the other Christian Churches should declare a Kandhamal Day on which collections could be made through various ways and in places of worship to contribute to the CBCI Kandhamal fund.
It was strongly recommended that the Catholci Church speed up the causes of canonization of the Catholci martyrs and that the Word Council of Churches should take up the cases of other Christian Martyrs and following its own procedures declare these as martyrs. This it was felt would provide a big boost to the Kandhamal area.
It was deemed that awareness of the sufferings of victims of Kandhamal was not sufficiently diffused in the country and therefore we must find ways and means to spread information about what happened so that the victims and the legal process find help and support. Similarly, it was suggested that cases to be pursued should be prioritized according to the solidity of the evidence available. Ms Grover requested that the working be streamlined and that it be brought under one coordinating authority in order to avoid fissures between lawyers and to increase efficiency of the work.
Archbishop John Barwa thanked all those who were supporting the Kandahamal process of social justice, healing and reconciliation. Expressing his gratitude specially to the General Secretary of CBCI Bishop Theodore, he said that ever since Bishop Theodore took over, all those in difficulties specially he and other Bishops in the poorer regions are feeling empowered. He was grateful to his own priests and to the lawyers for having taken the battle forward. The long meeting that began at 9.30 in the morning ended up with satisfaction at 5 PM.
Report prepared by Mr. A.C. Michael for the CBCI
30th January 2019