By BosNewsLife Asia Service
NEW DELHI, INDIA (BosNewsLife)– Human rights watchers on Wednesday, November 28, cautiously welcomed the sentencing of a dozen people to six years imprisonment for their involvement in India’s deadliest anti-Christian violence in decades.
At least 90 people were killed and 54,000 displaced when violence broke out in August 2008 in India’s eastern state or Orissa.
The fast-track court in the town of Phulbani in Orissa’s Kandhamal district also fined the 12 defendants 5,000 rupees ($90) for arson, rioting and the torching of houses in Jarkinaju village on August 25, 2008.
Ten others who had been accused in the case were acquitted due to lack of evidence, trial observers said.
The attacks against Christians began in Orissa’s Kandhamal district after the assassination of local Hindu leader Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati and four of his followers. Hindu militants blamed Christians, though Maoist insurgents claimed responsibility for the murder.
It was viewed as the worst single outbreak of anti-Christian violence since India gained independence in 1950.
Rights activists said they had mixed feelings about Tuesday’s sentencing of those involved in the clashes saying the overwhelming majority of cases relating to the 2008 violence have either been dismissed or resulted in acquittals.
John Dayal, a leading righs avtivist and member if the government’s advisory body National Integration Council, “Justice must be done, and must be seen to be done.”
Dayal, who visited the region, added that, “The aggregate of justice in the fast-track courts in Kandhamal does not inspire a sense of confidence and closure among the victims.”
He claimed that “Many killers are roaming free, and a Member of the Legislative Assembly is at large after his conviction, because the courts seem to think he is too important to be incarcerated”.
David Griffiths, South Asia team leader of rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide, agreed.
“We continue to urge the state administration in Orissa to fight against the prevailing impunity, because the victims deserve justice, and because the rule of law is the essential foundation for peace,” he said in a statement to BosNewsLife.
Yet he also said that, “Any convictions in Kandhamal mark a step forward, and credit must also be given to the human rights defenders providing essential legal aid to victims and witnesses.”