BHUBANESHWAR, India (UCAN): Church leaders in Orissa have dismissed the report on anti-Christian violence in the eastern Indian state as “one-sided,” “fictitious” and “pre-meditated.”
S.C. Mohapatra, the retired judge who comprised the one-man commission that investigated last year’s violence, said in his interim report that the attacks were not sectarian but rooted in tribal land disputes.
He said fake caste certificates had been used to prove entitlement to land and that “conversion and re-conversion” were also issues, according to media reports.
The judge recommended a grassroots survey to verify caste certificates and stricter enforcement of the state’s law regulating conversions.
Father Mrutyunjay Digal, treasurer of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar archdiocese in Orissa, says the report was designed to “give a clean chit” to Hindu radical groups that orchestrated the violence.
“It is an attempt to hide the root cause,” the priest told UCA News, calling the report “baseless and one-sided” with no statistical evidence. He said statistics would show that land disputes are not a major issue in the region.
Father Ajay Singh, who directs the social-service society of the archdiocese, which covers the area where the violence was most intense, told UCA News on July 6 that the report had been prepared without studying the ground realities.
Father Singh described the report as “fictitious” and its outcome “pre-meditated.” He pointed out that Mohapatra had expressed the same views soon after he was appointed.
The state government set up the commission in October after nearly two months of violence that killed at least 90 people, mostly Christians, and displaced more than 50,000.
The violence began on Aug. 24, a day after Maoists gunned down a Hindu religious leader in Orissa’s Kandhamal district.
Hindu radicals blamed Christians for the murder and destroyed churches, convents, other Church institutions and hundreds of Christian homes. They killed some people who refused to convert to Hinduism.
About 88 percent of land in Kandhamal district, the epicenter of the violence, belongs to the government. The Kandha tribe owns 5.5 percent, the Pano 1.5 percent and other communities the remaining 5 percent.
Dharmapad Ranjit, a human rights activist, said it was “unfortunate” the commission had not talked to people in the area and visited the villages.
At least 20 fact-finding teams that have visited Kandhamal since the attacks concluded that the violence was sectarian in nature and had been perpetrated by Hindu radical groups, Ranjit told UCA News.
The commission reportedly studied 300 affidavits filed by various groups to prepare its interim report.
Mohapatra told reporters he had suggested the state government take steps to return to tribal people their land taken by other communities.
However, he said he would need at least two years to produce a complete report on the violence.
Christians are already worried over the July 5 release on bail of Manoj Pradhan, accused of being a ringleader in the riots, so he could take his oath as a recently elected member of the state legislature.
A court in Kandhamal released Pradhan even though he faces charges including seven counts of murder and six counts of arson.
B.D. Das, general secretary of the Protestant Church of North India, expressed surprise that Pradhan got bail and said they would approach the Supreme Court to appeal against this.