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Stop the hate crime

The Orissa Steel and Mines Minister’s resignation was one of the demands of the tribals in the district, who were opposing a proposal to grant Dalits SC status.

india Updated: Dec 30, 2007 22:34 IST

In orissa, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has ordered a judicial inquiry into the violence against Christian institutions.

At the same time State Minister of Steel and Mines, Padmanabha Behera, has resigned owning “moral responsibility” for the Christmas carnage. These actions were taken after a curfew and after the presence of paramilitary forces proved to be no deterrents to the criminal elements who continued on their hate campaign. The minister’s resignation was one of the demands of the tribals in the district, who were opposing a proposal to grant Dalits the status of a Scheduled Caste.

This hadn’t much to do with the attacks directly. So, the issuance of caveats by all parties to not “make this a political issue” rings hollow. If this is not politics, nothing is.

The state response leaves much to be desired. The matter-of-fact acceptance that the attacks were likely in response to an assault on a VHP leader is shameful — and tiring. As there had already been an attack on an ‘anti-conversion’ activist, which in turn had inspired the VHP to call a bandh, surely the state machinery should have been alerted to the possibility of such a ‘response’? Communal vandalism and violence have been played out with almost meticulous precision.

It is incomprehensible how 15 churches and institutes were targeted while there was no intelligence on the ground about any such activity. Or did the state machinery simply not bother? Communal tension has festered in Orissa for years. One of its worst manifestations was the 1999 Graham Staines case, where the Australian missionary was burnt to death along with his two young sons. While the murders shocked the nation, the case ended finally with a judgment that exposed the wide chasm between a deterring penalty and the ground realities.

While the lower court sentenced the main perpetrator, Dara Singh, to death and 12 others to life imprisonment in September 2003, the Orissa High Court ended up commuting Singh’s death to life sentence and acquitted 11 of the others. The gap in the severity of the penalty, slashed to mere tokenism, cannot have sent the right signals to those inciting such hate crimes. And clearly, little has been done to address the basic welfare issues involved in such communal divides.

This is a politically-motivated crime and the upkeep of law and order is an issue that the state machinery alone can address. Yet, the moves have been tactical and little is yet being done to grapple with the ground reality that Orissa may be becoming a cesspit of intolerance. The rot must be stemmed now, Mr Patnaik’s reassurances notwithstanding.