EDITED EXCERPTS FROM AN INTERVIEW
What led you to write this book?
The book is the culmination of the past five years of my engagement with Kandhamal. I went there as a journalist, but went beyond journalism after seeing the situation. It wasn’t a carnage, but a systematic attack. One woman told me of her husband, who was pulled out of a bus and asked to re-convert to Hinduism. He refused, so they beat him to death. By the time she reached the spot with her relatives, the body had been removed. When I asked the district collector about this, he said it was “a cooked-up story”. Many such incidents prompted my previous book, Kandhamal: A Blot on Indian Secularism.
After the attacks, the refugees were dumped back in their villages and the camps were shut down. The government began whitewashing the incident. In an affidavit to the Supreme Court, the government said they had already arrested 633 of the 11,348 named in the FIR, and were doing what they could to catch the rest. When I went back seven months later, the SP refused to answer any of my questions; that meant they hadn’t arrested anyone since that affidavit. The murderers still roam free with impunity. I met a widow who had been threatened that she would be raped if she didn’t withdraw her case. Though more than 84,000 people had been named in 3,132 complaints made the to the police, they registered only 828 FIRs and brought to trial only 3,181 while reporting to the court routinely that most of the accused were ‘absconding’ even as they roamed free in Kandhamal. The situation was becoming unbearable, which is why I felt I had to write this book.
Who was threatening everybody?
Manoj Pradhan. He was accused of seven murders during the violence, but honoured for his “bravery”. While in jail, he was nominated as an MLA candidate by the BJP. After winning the polls, he was given bail and threatened not only witnesses but also the policemen who intervened. What kind of judicial system is this? Judgments have been given by the Fast Track Courts in 27 murder trials. But there have been convictions under IPC 302 only in two cases. In some cases, there were partial convictions because the evidence had been destroyed. A Hindu man stood up to the pradhan of his area against their brazen actions; his hands were cut off, and when he ran, he was chased, killed and his body dumped.
The court found the accused guilty only of destroying evidence. For cutting a guy to pieces, they were punished for just three years.
Do you also feel there is a bigger conspiracy behind the murder of Swami Laxmanananda?
There is a book called Harvest of Hate, supposedly written by American anthropologist Michael Parker. Anyone who has read it knows that it’s a fake; it’s written in Indian English with poor editing. It says, among other things, that the ashram received an anonymous letter saying that the Swami had seven days to live. Then there are bizarre references to Christians making sacrifices to the devil; the excerpts from the book are very funny. Despite being obviously false, the book is still being distributed. There’s something very weird about this murder. Everyone is blaming everyone else, but nobody is being arrested. Why isn’t there any inquiry to find out who really is behind the murder?
What do you have to say about the role played by the National Human Rights Commission?
The commission did a lot of things in Delhi, but little on the ground. While in Gujarat, the commission issued as many as 13 orders and brought the matter to the Supreme Court; in Kandhamal, it has failed to obey the Supreme Court. In the past five years, it hasn’t been able to issue a single order. It has been acting as a PR agency for the temple.