IPTCO In-depth Report on Communalism in Orissa

Indian People’s Tribunal on Communalism in Orissa [IPTCO] has released its report, revealing alarming levels of sectarian groups organising in the state, and recommended certain measures to curb communalism.

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Indian People’s Tribunal on Communalism in Orissa [IPTCO] has released its report, revealing alarming levels of sectarian groups organising in the state, and recommended certain measures to curb communalism.

The IPTCO on October 4 released its report on the role of majoritarian communal groups in perpetrating communal violence, criminal activity, and human rights violations across the state. The Tribunal was constituted in response to concerns voiced by citizens over the growth of communalism and increased aggression throughout Orissa particularly since the Gujarat 2002 genocide. In June 2005, the IPTCO commissioned its inquiry to gage the strength, reach, and impact of fundamentalist groups in the state. The report is the culmination of nearly twenty months of investigative work and research. Led by Justice K.K. Usha, Former Chief Justice of Kerala High Court, the Tribunal was convened by Dr. Angana Chatterji, Associate Professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies, and Advocate Mihir Desai of Mumbai High Court.

The Indian People’s Tribunal on Environment and Human Rights was constituted by a people’s mandate in 1993 to investigate into human rights violations and cases of environmental degradation. The IPT is particularly concerned about cases that affect the lives and livelihood of a vast majority of urban and rural poor. The IPT process endeavours to inquire into the exact nature of a problem, and provide a true picture by providing a space for all the concerned parties to present their views.

Edited by Dr. Chatterji and Advocate Desai, the 80-page report of the Tribunal on Communalism in Orissa is entitled ‘Communalism in Orissa’. IPTCO’s report describes the formidable extent of mobilisation by the majoritarian communalist group of organisations in Orissa. According to the report, the Sangh Parivar group of Hindutva, and Hindu supremacist organisations have a visible presence in 25 of 30 districts in Orissa. The Sangh Parivar’s cadre in Orissa currently numbers several millions, and constitutes the largest voluntary effort in the state.

Justice Usha said: “As elsewhere in India, these groups legitimise their actions against minorities by invoking specific and fabricated threats to Hindus from Muslims and Christians.”

Dr. Chatterji stated: “In Orissa, the Sangh Parivar has successfully established centres at every level of civic life, ranging from villages to cities. The Sangh Parivar operates through 35 primary organisations, including ideological, service, and charitable institutions, militant and educational groups, trade unions and student unions, political and women’s organisations.”

Advocate Desai stated: “IPTCO’s findings reveal that majoritarian communal organisations have consolidated their power, using violence to target women, religious and sexual minorities, along with disenfranchised caste, class, ethnic, and other social groups.”

The Tribunal’s report documents in considerable detail how the cadre of majoritarian communal organisations is recruited and indoctrinated in hatred and violence against other communities that it has defined as inherently “inferior”. Of particular concern, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has set up developmental centres across the state, establishing training camps where military exercises are performed as public display, as well as a network of educational institutions promoting right-wing ideologies. Prioritising areas where the government has failed to provide functioning public schools, these groups have capitalised on the acute desire for accessible state institutions and accountability among the populace. This cadre, according to the IPTCO report, uses coercion and force to promote Hindu supremacy and hegemony. Dr. Chatterji added: “Forcible conversions to dominant Hinduism, social and economic boycotts, tonsuring, physical intimidation and violence, arson, and even murder are the weapons that Sangh Parivar cadre wields to intimidate and target disenfranchised groups and religious minorities such as Adivasis, Dalits, Christians, and Muslims”.

Given the dire situation in the state, the IPTCO recommends that the Government of India and the Government of Orissa treat communalism in the state as an emergency and accord it immediate attention to prevent further violations and injustices.

Justice Usha added: “IPTCO understands its mandate to investigate communalism as being a constitutional one, delineated in Article 51A, Clause E which specifies the fundamental responsibilities of citizens”. Article 51A, Clause E aims “to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities” and “to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women” (IPTCO, page 3). This obligation, their report notes, is reinforced by the Indian Penal Code – specifically provisions in Section 152A, 153B, 295-298, and 505 – which prescribe criminal prosecution for persons promoting enmity on sectarian or economic grounds, who are, thus, undermining national integration. Indeed, the report warns that if the communalisation of Orissa is “indicative of the future of the nation, then the signs are truly ominous for India’s democratic future” (IPTCO, page 70).

Advocate Desai stated: “In addition to documenting communalism’s reach in Orissa, IPTCO was launched as an injunctive mechanism to help formulate remedial and preventive action for human rights abuses in the future.” The primary investigations consisted of meeting with persons and communities, targeted by majoritarian communal groups and those who have suffered abuse in the context of majoritarian communalism such as public lynching, rape, tonsuring, economic boycotts, segregation and discrimination. These meetings were held across Orissa in the Bhadrak District, Jagatsinghpur District, Keonjhar District, Phulbani District, and Bhubaneswar, and included, in addition to Justice Usha, Dr. Chatterji, and Advocate Desai, Dr. Asha Hans, former Professor of Utkal University, Ms. Lalita Missal of National Alliance of Women, Orissa chapter, Dr. Ram Puniyani of Ekta, Committee for Communal Amity, and scholar-activists Dr. Shaheen Nilofer and Mr. Sudhir Pattnaik.

The Tribunal also interviewed members of the state government and other state agencies, opposition leaders, police and political parties, individuals associated with educational institutions, non-governmental organisations, Dalit and Adivasi leaders, rights groups, activists, academics, journalists, and local religious leaders from Christian, Muslim, Hindu groups, as well as communal groups. IPTCO culled its evidence from a variety of sources including official documents, depositions, affidavits, signed statements, visual documentation, sworn personal and group testimonies, and expert witnesses.

Claims by individuals and groups were scrutinised by the Tribunal and corroborated through other sources such as conducting additional interviews and securing further documentary evidence.

The Tribunal’s report delineates recommendations for procedures and mechanisms to determine state and collective responsibility and accountability. Some of the general recommendations include:

1.     A call for the Central Bureau of Investigation to investigate the activities of the Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), and RSS under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967.

2.     To establish a review panel appointed by the Government of Orissa, in consultation with the National Human Rights Commission, the National Minorities Commission, and other independent bodies such as the People’s Union for Democratic Rights and the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, to identify and investigate the actions and finances of communal groups.

3.     That communal groups be investigated and monitored. When appropriate, requisite action should be taken to safeguard minorities against the actions of these groups, and reparations should be made retroactively to communities and individuals who have suffered as a consequence of the actions of these groups.

4.     The Government of Orissa and the Central Government should make a concerted effort to investigate and eradicate paramilitary hate camps operated by the communal groups.

5.     The charitable status and privileges of certain organisations such as the VHP and Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram, which are registered as charities, should be reviewed given the nature of their activities.

6.     The disparagement, demonisation, and vilification of any religion should be statutorily prohibited and punishable under the Indian Penal Code.

7.     The repeal of the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, 1967, which has been used by communal groups to target and prohibit voluntary conversion within minority communities.

8.     That the Government of India and the Government of Orissa safeguard the right of individuals who convert voluntarily to practise their religion.

9.     That the police and courts act immediately and authoritatively to stop communalists from forcibly converting or reconverting individuals to Hinduism. The police should be required to submit regular and public reports on their work.

10.     That the police establish a special desk for registering minority grievances and filing First Information Reports.

11.     That the Government of Orissa appoint Special Public Prosecutors to conduct proceedings as necessary.

12.     That the trishul (trident) be categorised as a weapon and its mass distribution be prohibited under the Arms Act of 1959.

13.     That the Orissa Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act, 1960 – which has been used against minorities and the economically disenfranchised in the cattle trade – should be reviewed.

Finally, while the Tribunal affirms the view that the “state is accountable for safeguarding human rights,” it also urges individual citizens to recognise their duty to respond to violations and “to challenge the existing culture of impunity that generally protects perpetrators of communal violence from prosecution” (IPTCO, pages 69-70), cautioning that it will take the combined efforts of both to dismantle the formidable infrastructure of fear and intimidation erected by these groups.

[Convenors of the Indian People’s Tribunal on Communalism in Orissa, Dr. Angana Chatterji may be reached at [email protected] and

Advocate Mihir Desai at [email protected]]