NEW DELHI (ICNS) — The Indian People's Tribunal on Communalism in Orissa released its report expressing concern over communal groups perpetrating violence, criminal activity, and human rights violations across the state.
Justice K.K. Usha, former Chief Justice of the Kerala High Court, led the tribunal. It was convened by Dr. Angana Chatterji, Associate Professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies, and Advocate Mihir Desai, Mumbai High Court.
The 80-page report of the Tribunal said Sangh Parivar group of Hindutva has a visible presence in 25 of 30 districts in Orissa. The Sangh Parivar's cadre in Orissa currently numbers several million, and constitutes the largest voluntary effort in the state.
"As elsewhere in India, these groups legitimize their actions against minorities by invoking specific and fabricated threats to Hindus from Muslims and Christians," Justice Usha said.
The Tribunal was constituted in response to concerns voiced by citizens over the growth of communalism and increased aggression throughout Orissa particularly since the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat.
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.
According to Chatterji "In Orissa, the Sangh Parivar has successfully established centers at every level of civic life, ranging from villages to cities. The Sangh Parivar operates through thirty-five primary organizations, including ideological, service, and charitable institutions, militant and educational groups, trade unions and student unions, political and women's organizations."
Advocate Desai said the findings reveal that "communal organizations 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 communal organisations is recruited and indoctrinated in hatred and violence against other communities.
It expressed particular concern over the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) setting up developmental centers 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.
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."
The IPTCO recommends that the state and central governments treat communalism in the state as an emergency and accord it immediate attention to prevent further violations and injustices.
Its general recommendations include the following:
1. The Central Bureau of Investigation probe the activities of the Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), and RSS under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967.
2. The government establish a review panel 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. The 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 organizations 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. The Government of India and the Government of Orissa safeguard the right of individuals who convert voluntarily to practice their religion.
9. 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.