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Orissa court reopens murder case previously dismissed by police

MUMBAI (AsiaNews): Following the killing of a Protestant minister, Michael Nayak, on 20 July 2011, in Kandhamal, India, by a group of extremists professing to be Hindu, police dismissed the case as accidental death.

However, it was reported on August 8, just one year on, that a court reopened the case and issued orders for the suspects in the killing to be apprehended.

Sajan George, president of the Council of Indian Christians, said that the court decision sends a positive signal.

However, he thinks the courts should also rule on five other murder cases involving Christians, which have also been dismissed by the police.

The advocate noted that Indian courts are excessively slow in acting on cases of religious violence, as noted by a US (United States of America) State Department report on religious freedom.

“Two weeks before the fourth anniversary of the 2008 anti-Christian massacres in Orissa, the justice system is still far from reaching any results,” George explained. 

He noted that shortcomings in the system are especially evident in the case of Manoj Pradhan, a high profile leader in the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

In 2010, Pradhan was charged with the murder of 11 people. However, the state’s high court convicted him only for the culpable homicide of one person and ordered him to pay a small fine (Sunday Examiner, 11 July 2010). 

Despite the conviction and pending charges for seven other crimes associated with the violence of 2007 to 2008, he was released on bail and remains a member of the Orissa state legislature.

The US State Department report says, “Progress in achieving justice for victims of past large-scale incidents of communal violence in India continued to be slow and ineffective. In addition, intimidation, harassment and occasional small-scale violence against members of religious minority groups continued, particularly against Christians in states with anti-conversion laws.”

Between December 2007 and August 2008, Hindu ultranationalists killed 93 people, looted and set fire to more than 6,500 homes, and destroyed more than 350 churches and 45 schools.

More than 50,000 people, mostly Christian, were forced to flee because of the pogrom [organised massacre of helpless people] (Sunday Examiner, 31 August 2008). 

Around 10,000 people have not yet been relocated.

In the past few years, police have documented an estimated 3,500 complaints related to the violence and registered 827 cases with the local and state court system. 

Of these, approximately 300 cases have now been heard, with 68 individuals found guilty and imprisoned and 412 individuals let off with a fine or minor sentence. 

Around 200 cases were dismissed for lack of evidence and over 300 cases are pending.

In Orissa, the Church has implemented aid and reconstruction programme for both Christians and Hindus.

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