Her husband was butchered by a mob in front of her and their two children. Twenty-four-year-old Kanak Rekha Nayak, for whom survival has become a nightmare, chokes when she says, “He was cut to pieces. The perpetrators went into hiding after that, but now they roam free. I see them sometimes — they try and avoid me now.”
Kanak is one of the thousands from Kandhamal district of Orissa, where communal clashes and rampaging mobs forced over 54,000 Christians to flee their homes and villages two years ago. The area had witnessed widespread violence following the murder of Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four of his aides at his ashram in August 2008. Rightwing Hindu groups held Christians responsible for Saraswati's killing.
A collection of photographs and paintings depicting the plight of the victims, along with items that relate their stories first-hand, was showcased at the Constitution Club in the Capital recently. Young artists, who travelled across the violence-hit regions, have painted their own feelings on canvas. Titled “Hamwatan”, the exhibition also displayed a large number of photographs collected from Shailendra Pandey of Tehelka and some from Janvikas Society of Orissa.
“The episode has been erased from our collective conscience, and we want to re-register it in the minds of all Indians,” said John Dayal, an activist associated with the event and secretary general of All India Christian Council.
Lyricist Javed Akhtar, who opened the exhibition, described the incidents in Orissa as a “matter of shame” for the entire country.
“While on one hand we take rightful pride in our democracy, on the other hand, such incidences are a blot on the face of our nation, our democracy and our ideal of secularism,” Akhtar said. Heat-wrenching images, like that of a partially visually impaired Dalit being beaten by a mob, the corpse of Father Bernard with dried tears in his eyes, or a painting portraying the identity of an old woman torn between the temple that says “no entry” and a church that says “caution” to her, were spread all across the venue.
To elucidate the cause, 43 survivors were brought to the Capital and they deposed before a jury consisting of eminent personalities like former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court A. P. Shah, which gave its recommendations on the basis of their testimonies.
Shailendra Pandey, whose 44 photographs taken over two visits to Kandhamal have been put up at the exhibition, says, “The region has been completely overlooked by the government. The only compensation provided was to the fully damaged families, that too a meagre amount of Rs.50,000 out of which the actual disbursement was Rs.10,000, let alone any other relief. We have done our bit to sensitise the government towards the people of Kandhamal, and hope that the government would take notice.”