(Photo: Karen Burke/WCC)
A judge in India sentenced 12 people to six years imprisonment on Tuesday for their role in the mass violence against Christians in Orissa's Kandhamal district in 2008, in which dozens were killed.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), a Christian organization working for religious freedom, sent a press release to The Christian Post that details the court's decision. Besides the prison sentence, the men will also have to pay 5,000 rupees (about $90,000 U.S. dollars) in connection with arson, rioting and the torching of houses in Jarkinaju village on Aug. 25, 2008. Ten other people accused in the case were acquitted, however, due to lack of evidence.
"Justice must be done, and must be seen to be done. The aggregate of justice in the fast-track courts in Kandhamal does not inspire a sense of confidence and closure among the victims. Many killers are roaming free, and a Member of the Legislative Assembly is at large after his conviction, because the courts seem to think he is too important to be incarcerated," said Dr. John Dayal, a Member of the Government's National Integration Council (NIC).
The anti-Christian outbreak in Orissa started after the assassination of local Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) figurehead Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati by followers of Maoist insurgents. Official records say that 90 Christians were killed in the subsequent riots, and over 54,000 people were driven from their homes. Hindus were reportedly angry that many Dalits, or "Untouchables" from the lowest caste, were converting to Christianity, seeing it as a way out of their status. Dalits are treated as less than human in sections of Hindu society and comprise close to one-fifth of India's one billion-plus population.
Human right activists have protested against the many acquittals and dismissals of murder cases related to the violence, and have said that significant flaws in India's justice system are resulting in many guilty people walking away free.
"Any convictions in Kandhamal mark a step forward, and credit must also be given to the human rights defenders providing essential legal aid to victims and witnesses," said David Griffiths, CSW South Asia Team Leader. "However, we continue to urge the state administration in Orissa to fight against the prevailing impunity, because the victims deserve justice, and because the rule of law is the essential foundation for peace."
Christian Indians have been demanding justice for many years now, saying that offenses against believers in India continue to this day.
"We saw 14 to 15 families being forced to drink cow urine as part of the conversion ceremony to purify their sins and then they had to sign a letter saying that they had become Hindus and would obey orders to attack Christians," one resident from Kandhamal reportedly revealed, referring to attempts by Hindus to force those who had converted to Christianity back into the caste system – with many of those refusing allegedly either being raped or killed.