Kandhamal is not a new subject to me. Countercurrents.org had published an article on 2nd November 2003 by Angana Chatterjee “Orissa: A Gujarat In The making”. It was five years before the worst communal violence against Christians in modern India happened in Kandhamal in 2008 in which 93 people were killed, over 350 churches and worship places which belonged to the Adivasi Christians and Dalit Christians were destroyed, around 6,500 houses were burnt or demolished, over 40 women were subjected to rape, molestation and humiliation and several educational, social service and health institutions were destroyed and looted. More than 56,000 people were displaced.
After the dreaded thing happened Countercurrents.org had published dozens of articles including fact finding reports, analyses, opinions and on the ground reports.
I had visited Kandhamal in 2015 and extensively reported about the current situation in Kandhamal. I interviewed a dozen widows of Kandhamal violence. While interviewing them they looked upon me as someone who could bring them some succour to the pathetic situation they are in. Many of them are facing intimidation from Hindutva forces and can’t return to their villages. Most of them were living in different parts of India as house maids, tailors and doing other odd jobs to sustain their ruined families. Little did they know that an insignificant journalist like me could do very little for them. The hope in their eyes really shook me. Still I kept my calm and kept on doing my ‘job’. I visited ruined houses, visited a house where an old woman was burnt alive, visited a church that became a cow shed. I marched with thousands of victims in Raikia, the nerve centre of violence and heartland of RSS/Sangh Parivar in Kandhamal. I saw the collective defiance and courage of the victims who in spite of all the hardships and government apathy, came together and formed a movement for communal harmony. Marching with the masses I was convinced that the RSS/Sangh Parivar elements will never be able to repeat a 2008 again in Kandhamal.
On 19th of this month I was among the audience at K.P. Kesava Menon hall in Calicut, watching K.P Sasi’s documentary “Voices From The Ruins: Kandhamal in Search of Justice”. Sasi being a good friend of mine I had heard stories about Kandhamal from him too. I had seen the rushes of the film, a roughly edited version too. I also knew the pain and hardships that he went through in making this film. While I sat in the dark and went through the visuals that played before me on the screen I was re-living the Kandhamal violence once again. As the tales of the naked horrors of the violence, the helplessness of the victims, the courage of many Hindus who saved many Christian lives risking their own lives, the government and judicial apathy in delivering justice and finally the hope of building a resilient India that will defeat the nefarious designs of the communal forces through religious harmony overwhelmed me with emotions and I cried.
Soon after the screening I was called upon to the stage to give my reactions about the film. I wiped my tears off and went on to the stage. Still I could not stop my tears. I was embarrassed. Through my tears I told the audience it is through emotions that revolutionary actions are born. Sasi’s film was able to evoke emotion about an incident that happened thousands of kilometers away and now it is our duty to make sure that the victims get justice.
Although I was overcome with emotion while watching Sasi’s film, it is not a tear jerker. It is a calm and composed study of the Kandhamal violence. It delves into history to show how the hate campaign by RSS/Sangh Parivar elements slowly seeped through the veins of Kandhamal. How the killing of Swami Lakshmananda by the Maoists was used by the communal forces to unleash a pogrom on Adivasi and Dalit Christians. The film shows that the violence was not a spontaneous reaction to the killing of the Swami, but a well planned orchestrated attack on the minorities. The film then analyses the justice delivery system and how it failed to deliver justice to the victims. The film ends in a note of hope by showing the robust resistance movement the victims themselves built and solidarity and support coming to the victims cutting across political spectrum.
I am not alone to overcome with emotion in Kandhamal. In 2015, I saw Brinda Karat, Polit Bureau member of Communist Party of India (Marxist) wiping her tears off after visiting seven innocent Dalit/Adivasi Christians who are lodged in Phulbani jail allegedly for killing Swami Lakshmananda. Incidentally they are the only people who are convicted and still lodged in jail in any case related to this horrific communal violence. Yes, India failed in delivering justice to these poor Adivasi/Dalits in Kandhamal. Sasi brings out this truth forcefully through his film. That may be the reason I cried after watching this film.
Binu Mathew is the editor of www.countercurrents.org. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org