India Christians Affected by Violence to Receive Free Legal Services

A group of lawyers and social activists under the Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) has agreed to offer free legal services to the riot-affected people in Orissa, India.

The non-governmental organization made an agreement with the All India Christian Council (AICC) to provide free legal intervention for victims of recent anti-Christian violence and to usher long-term solutions for inter-faith harmony in Gajapati district in India's eastern state of Orissa.

While Kandhamal district in Orissa was the epicenter for riots from August to December last year, AICC notes, Gajapati district recorded the largest number of crimes. At least 337 families lost homes or businesses.

According to a survey by the Gajapati United Christian Forum, 320 houses were damaged and 20 churches and 19 businesses were destroyed. HRLN estimates that 700 families were affected and two to three years of legal intervention is needed.

"HRLN lawyers and social workers have assisted victims in Gajapati district since the unprecedented anti-Christian riots in 2008. We're privileged to strengthen and enhance their ongoing efforts by providing needed resources and using our network of Christian leaders in the area," said Dr. Sam Paul, National Secretary of Public Affairs for the AICC.

He noted that most victims are from Scheduled Castes (Dalits) or Scheduled Tribes and are extremely poor.

The agreement between the Christian council and HRLN provides needed equipment and covers fees for legal experts, including lawyers, social workers, and other personnel. The team will offer free legal services including the filing of police cases, legal training for lawyers, awareness workshops, publications, and civil society campaigns.

They hope their efforts will result in more than just favorable court verdicts.

"This partnership is unique because our goal is legal intervention that will result in more than just convictions for the perpetrators of crimes," said Paul.

He explained that together they will "help victims replace lost identity documents like ration cards and voter's ID cards, apply for government assistance including employment through the Nation Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, and much more."

"Our efforts will result in income, independence, and, eventually, improved lives for people in these communities," he affirmed.

According to the AICC, the anti-Christian violence last year that was prompted by the murder of a Hindu extremist leader left 315 villages damaged and 4,640 Christian houses destroyed. Additionally, 70 people were killed; 18,000 Christians were injured; and 54,000 were rendered homeless.

In that barbarous violence, which lasted until mid-October, an estimated 300 churches were destroyed and 13 Christian schools and colleges were damaged.