Ram Puniyani


Book Review: Kandhalmal: Introspection for Initiative for Justice 2007-2015, Vrinda Grover and Saumya Uma, Media House and United Christian Forum, Delhi 2017


Violence is the bane of Indian society and a manifest agenda of communal forces, which thrive on divisive politics and polarization. This is part of their political agenda. While Hindu-Muslim violence during British period had a particular beginning and characteristics, the same violence became anti-Muslim violence after Independence. The major brunt of communal violence has been borne by Muslim community while Sikhs also became the major victim in 1984. Christian community was not under attack till practically 1999 when Pastor Stains was burnt alive in a brutal way. Following that anti Christian violence kept dogging the society in Gujarat (Dangs), MP (Jhabua) and many other places, the peak of this was witnessed in Kandhamal in August 2008, when on the pretext of murder of Swami Laxmananand, anti Christian violence was unleashed.


Swami was murdered most probably by Maoists and Christians had nothing to do with that even in a very remote way. The way communal violence mechanism has come up in India, pretexts are so created and modulated that religious minorities face the wrath of violence. The body of Swami was taken in the procession in the Christian majority areas of Kandhmal and the expected result of brutal violence, in which killings (nearly 100) and displacements (55000) of Christian minority took place and was accompanied by burning and damaging of Churches (295). Then followed the efforts of victims get proper rehabilitation and justice, which usually deludes the riot victims.


This book is a meticulous chronicling of the process of attempts to get justice, the hurdles and inadequate outcome of the same. The lawyer duo, who have painstakingly followed this process are probably the most competent ones’ to do the job as they have not been just distant observers but very much part of the process of getting justice all through. Their compassion for the cause is very much there to be admired. Earlier; already they have penned two volumes on Kandhamal (Kandhamal; Law must change its course, 2010 and (Waiting for Justice, A Report on National Peoples’ Tribunal on Kandhamal, 2001).


They have examined the role of police and its apathy in controlling the violence (What of that, violence took place in their very presence). They point out the role of state apparatus, in first letting the violence take place and then default on rehabilitation and on giving justice to victims. Both these are part of the Indian system as it is deeply justice and rehabilitation have been undermined due to the prevalent virus of communal thinking. Few and far are the officers, bureaucrats or politicians who stand up to mark come to do what is expected of them.


The book does confirm the findings of other researchers like Dr. V. N. Rai that no violence can continue beyond 48 hours unless state is complicit in that. These book also reaffirms the findings of outstanding scholars like Asghar Ali Engineer and Paul brass about ‘Institutional riot mechanism’ in India where riots are not only orchestrated but they are made to appear as if minorities have begun the violence.


The book sets out with the goal to evaluate whether closure and justice have any resonance in the lives of victims close to a decade after the carnage took place. All the facets of violence, the communalized social common sense, the instigation of mobs, the targeting of women’s bodies, get reflected in the book. Impunity is the dominant phenomenon of post violence scenario, the book points out, “This impunity is neither incidental nor accidental. The gaps in Indian criminal jurisprudence, which does not recognize the doctrine of command or superior responsibility; individual criminal culpability, constructive responsibility and culpable inaction, penal provisions for holding public servants accountable for acts of omission and commission, allows the architects and abettors of the communal conflict, holding positions of public office or public authority to escape accountability. “(Page 23) This in a way sums of the core diagnosis of what ails the Indian system. While it provides adequate legal data, it passionately urges the need to revisit legal regime, polices and investigation protocols to ensure justice to victims of mass carmines.


It is a major contribution to tell us the outline of various steps undertaken by the community to strive to get justice at multiple layers. At the same time it shows the inadequacy of Mahaptra commission in sidelining and ignoring the role of Hindutva forces in inciting hate and perpetrating violence against Adivasi and dalit Christians. The other inquiry report that of Justice Naidu is proving the old adage, Justice delayed is Justice denied. He was to submit has report in 2014 but still there is no news of the report being submitted.


The nature of communal violence has been constantly changing in India and by and large more despicable dimensions get added on to the phenomenon. The books bring to our attention as to how survivors have been framed under different charges. This is like putting salt to the wounds.

An important part the book is to focus on the justice deliverance system and its inadequacies in the present scenario. While this will help the activist’s-lawyers to respond to such situations in future, it’s also a mirror to our society. Can such contributions be taken as a call for reforming the system? That’s a million dollar question in the contemporary times, where communal forces seem to be on ascendance. The ‘victim as the culprit’ is being projected very aggressively while the need is ensure prevention of violence, deliverance of justice and rehabilitation of victims is paramount.


On the other hand the book seems to be over focused on Kandhalmal. There was a need for introductory chapter on Communal violence in India with emphasis on anti-Christian violence. Also it does need a summary and conclusion chapter for average readers to grasp the gist of the book. Overall the authors deserve kudos for the efforts which will give strength to the struggling human and minority rights movements in the country.

April 5, 2017

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