Many top officials deposing before a commission probing the 2008 Kandhamal riots in Orissa have sought to pin the blame on Christians for the communal carnage.
At least 38 people were killed and thousands of houses burnt in the violence.
The riots broke out after the murder of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Swami Laxmanananda by suspected Maoists, which the commission was originally set up to probe.
Top police and administration officials have told the Justice (retd) Sarat Mahapatra Commission that the violence in Kandhamal district was caused primarily because the Panas (Christians) had encroached on the lands of the non-Christian Kandha tribals, many of who have been inducted into the Hindu fold by the VHP and RSS.
The officials have also suggested that the Panas had cornered jobs in the state government by using fake certificates stating they belonged to the Scheduled Castes. This, the officials said, added to the “long-standing ethno-communal divide” created by the “heightened activities” of Christian organisations and institutions.
Orissa Director General of Police M.M. Praharaj told the commission, “Many among the Kandhas believed that their land rights, access to government jobs and other benefits had been misappropriated by the members of the Pana community.”
Such depositions are, however, seen by Rafael Cheenath, archbisop of the Cuttack-Bhubaneswar archdiocese, as measures to “protect the state government” run by the BJD’s Naveen Patnaik. Cheenath had recently accused the state government of taking no effective measures to control the riots and ensure proper relief and rehabilitation of the Panas.
Many of them have not returned to their villages, preferring to live in new settlements built for them by Christian organisations near the relief camps they moved into after the riots.