इंडियन आवाज़     05 Dec 2023 12:03:22      انڈین آواز

On a fast track to injustice in Orissa

By Ajay Kumar Singh
Bhubaneswar: Verdicts from fast track courts set up to try cases related to the 2008 anti-Christian violence in Orissa have brought little solace to the victims.

Church workers, lawyers and activists assisting victims say anger and frustration is growing as murderers, rapists, arsonists and looters, walk free, in mockery of the country’s criminal justice delivery mechanism.

Many cases have become laughing matters as shoddy investigations, sham prosecutions and money and   

A tribal woman holding a cross that

she is wearing around her neck

muscle that frighten witnesses lead to acquittals. Vrinda Grover, a Supreme Court lawyer and activist, calls Kandhamal’s fast track courts “sites of speedy injustice.”

Joining her are hundreds of victims such as Nabajini Pradhan, the niece of a tribal chief who was killed for protecting Christians. “They killed and burnt my uncle’s body to destroy evidence. I still cannot understand how the murderers were acquitted,” she says.

Ishar Digal’s mother-in-law was killed and burned but her murders were also acquitted. “We saw my mother-in-law’s killers. Yet there is no evidence.”

Christodas Nayak, whose wife was axed to death, says he is disgusted after a court acquitted 29 of the 31 accused in the case. “There were more than 5,000 people who killed my wife and a neighbor and burned more than 300 houses,” he adds.

Father Manoj Kumar Nayak, a priest working among the victims, says he fails to understand how the justice system works in Orissa. “There are witnesses who testify and even identify the accused in the court, yet the court sees no evidence,” he says.

The Hindu radicals who perpetrated the crimes burned Paul Pradhan’s house and office and forced his wife to become a Hindu. But no one was punished even though Pradhan is a lawyer.

The Orissa administration, he says, claims Kandhamal cases have more convictions than those related to the anti-Muslim cases in Gujarat, western India.

“Such comparison shows the administration is more interested in maintaining statistics than meting out justice.”

Lalita Missal, coordinator of the National Alliance of Women, Orissa Chapter, says the system gives little scope for the victims to present their version of events.

“It is pity the victims have no say in their own cases and have to be at the mercy of the public prosecutors,” she said.

Father Nicholas Barla, tribal activist, warns the Kandhamal acquittals could undermine India’s democracy. “If there is no justice, democracy would be mobocracy (rule of mob) with more crimes and chaos,” he said.

John Dayal, a prominent lay leader in India, says the way the Kandhamal cases are handled has become “a shame on the Indian justice delivery system.”

St. Joseph of Annecy Sister Justine Senapati, who works among the survivors, regrets the little attention given to rape and molestation cases. She wants special courts to try these cases.

Bishop Sarat Chandra Nayak of Berhampur diocese said the large rate of acquittals has alarmed him. He says punishments are “far too minimal” in the few convictions that have been secured. They are so light as to be no deterrent at all, he says.

“Fines should be recovered and given as compensation to the victims, only then will criminals feel the heat.” UCAN

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