MEMORANDUM TO ORISSA CHIEF MINISTER REGARDING VIOLENCE IN KANDHAMAL
3 November 2008
Shri Naveen Patnaik
Chief Minister, Orissa
Dear Shri Patnaik,
The undersigned visited Kandhamal district of Orissa on 1st and 2nd November on behalf of our organization so that we could see for ourselves the situation of families of the minority community who had been attacked, rendered homeless and suffered in many ways from the third week of August onwards.
We visited some of the camps where those who had to leave their villages are staying and we also went to a village where some of those attacked have been able to return. We had detailed discussions with the Collector and Sub-Collector of the District.
The camp we visited was at Tikabali. Nearly half of the original inmates have left the camp. While many have returned to their village homes, we were told that many have also migrated to cities in Orissa and also to other States. The conditions in the camp were fairly satisfactory and we were happy to see that the local administrative officials are working just across the road from the camp and visit it often. The police presence at the camp itself is also not overbearing or threatening in any way. The officials were most co-operative and did not interfere with our interactions with the inmates.
However, there are certain issues that we would like to raise with you for your attention and intervention- we have brought them to the notice of the Collector also:
- The inmates of this camp and the others do not know when they will be able to return to their villages. They are still under threat, some are being asked to convert to Hinduism etc. We would, therefore, request you to start NREGA worksites near the camps and also at the places where the administration is planning to re-locate some of the camps and also at the places where the administration is planning to re-locate some of the camps (nearer the villages from which the inmates hail). The MORD has already sanctioned such worksites for the flood hit in Bihar who are living in camps and therefore, there should not be a problem in their doing the same for Orissa. Providing livelihood opportunities to the able-bodied in the camps will not only allow them to earn some much-needed money but will also give them occupation that they badly need.
- While students up to the 8th Standard have been provided with some books etc. and are also getting help from teachers in the camps and are also going to nearby schools, students of the higher classes and in colleges are unable to go back to their studies because they have no books and no writing materials. These should be provided immediately. In Tikabali, we met a young, blind girl, Jhunurani Digal, who is IInd year student. She has lost all her books, many of them in Braille and is in great need of being provided with what she needs to resume her studies.
- The people in the camps have been given only one set of clothes each. After two months, you can imagine how great their need is for more clothing and also for warm clothes. The Collector told us that they are planning to remedy this situation and I am sure that you will ensure this is done. Women also need to be given extra cloth for their special needs. Please see that this is made available to them. Soap for bathing and washing clothes is also badly needed as is oil.
- A check needs to be made of filing of reports and FIRs. While a lot has been done in this regard there are certain areas in which a lot needs to be done. For example, many families have lost their ration cards which should be re-issued. The same applies to NREGA job cards.
- Some of the women at the camp and elsewhere told us that they belonged to SHGs and some of the money that had been withdrawn from the banks or had been collected by the group to be deposited in the bank had been lost when their homes wer4e destroyed. We suggest that the local banks be contacted and the repayment of the outstanding amounts that women whose homes were attacked had with them be waived. If this is not done, they will face tremendous problems in the near future when the banks start demanding re-payment.
- Your Government has started paying compensation to those whose homes have been destroyed. It is now essential to see that all those who are returning to or ready to return to their homes are given all the help they need to re-build their homes. This is necessary because winter is setting in and the harvest season is drawing near. If they are to harvest their fields, they must be able to live in their villages.
- In the villages to which those attacked have returned, NREGA work has been started. Every effort must be made to see that this work continues here and in the entire district without any stoppages. We talked to members of the majority community in the villages also. They all said that if the NREGA work was made available to them in their own villages not only would this improve their lot but working together would bring all the villagers closer together.
- Products of the villagers like turmeric, tendu/kendupatta, leaf plates etc. should fetch them a better price than what they are being paid at the moment.
- Those who have lost their cattle could be helped to get easy loans for re-purchase of the same.
Complete rehabilitation, of course, is going to be a long-drawn out process which will need the co-operation of all sections of society with the administration. It is good that the administration is already concentrating on peace meetings in all the villages of the area and has started drawing in various social organizations into the process. The ensuring of security of person and goods, however, should not be compromised with at any cost. While the villagers in many areas are trying to renew their old bonds, there are forces at work who do not want communal peace and harmony to be restored. Your government must come down on these with a very heavy hand and not allow any group to feel that they can get away with stoking hatred and violence.
While we appreciate the fact that your Government has proceeded in apprehending suspects and also by suspending the policemen who failed to protest Sister Meena, we would appeal to you to pass the case on to the CBI since this is what the victim has repeatedly requested. It is very difficult to even imagine the trauma of a rape victim and when the circumstances are as horrific as what Sister Meena has experienced, we feel that it is only just to accede to her request.
We assure you of our co-operation as far as the restoration of peace and harmony in Kandhamal is concerned, The Orissa State unit of our organization will do whatever it can towards this. We hope that the efforts of all those involved in this necessary work will bear fruit very soon.