Kandhamal Awards: Keeping Hope and the Memory of the Massacred Alive

Never giving up the struggle for justice and reparation of those killed, displaced, and imprisoned on fake charges, these awards will keep the Kandhamal story alive – a bizarre bloodbath of right wing hate fomented in an Indian state whose founder was a Christian named Michael Madhusudan Das.

National Solidarity Forum (NSF), comprising over 70 human rights organization, has set up two awards to honour victims and survivors of the 2008 mass violence against Christians in Odisha state’s Kandhamal district.

The NSF came together in the wake of the 2008 violence, and worked on various issues relating to trauma, counselling, rehabilitation and advocacy for justice.

File Photo of Protest against Anti-Christian Violence

The forum plans to hold a virtual national webinar on August 25 to observe the Kandhamal Day and to express solidarity with all victims of hate and violence in India, according to a press release.

The theme for this year’s Kandhamal Day observation is “In Defense of Human Rights and Democratic Freedoms.”

“Kandhamal violence is a unique case of multiple violations of basic human rights and dignity of the most vulnerable groups. Justice is yet to be done and rights to be restored,” says a statement from the forum.

National Solidarity Forum has instituted two annual awards. The award to an individual carries a cash component and a plaque. The award for non-governmental organizations and groups recognizes long and sustained work on issues of human rights and civil liberties, development, harmony and peace building, forum convener Ram Puniyani said.

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NSF commemorates Kandhamal Day on August 25 every year with public meetings in Kandhamal, Bhubaneswar, New Delhi and other places.

The day will remember victims of targeted violence against Christian Adivasis and Dalits in the Kandhamal and several other districts of Odisha in eastern India, and Karnataka, in the south, during August-September 2008, explains the August 12 press release.

The forum has invited Justice A P Shah, former chairman of the National aw Commission and Chief Justice of Delhi High court, S Y Qureshi, former Chief Election Commissioner, and Javed Akhtar, a noted film and literature personality, as the chief guests and lead speakers.

“The malevolent violence in the Kandhamal and adjoining districts of Odisha in 2007 and 2008 stands out for its organised attack on an entire population of Dalits, Adivasis Christians, women and children among them, whose life, liberty and human dignity were violated with impunity,” the NSF statement said.

In the violence, more than 100 Christians were killed, several of them from the clergy, and over 75,000 displaced, it added.

More than 5,600 homes were destroyed, apart from 360 churches and other places of worship, and public institutions including schools, social services and health institutions were looted and destroyed. More than 40 women were raped, molested and humiliated. Several cases of forced conversion to Hinduism were reported. The education of 12,000 children was disrupted.

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Many continue to suffer psychologically from the trauma of the violence they suffered, the forum pointed out.

A study conducted by Supreme Court advocate Vrinda Grover and law professor Saumya Uma, found the conviction rate to be as low as 5.13 percent of the cases brought to court. It was a mere 1 percent of the reports made to the police by the victims and survivors. The struggle for relief, rehabilitation and justice continues in courts and government forums.