Deathly calm amid blame game - DGP sees ethnicity at core of Kandhamal's latest flare-up

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By SUBRAT DAS in Bhubaneshwar
  • Published 18.09.08
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Bhubaneswar, Sept. 17: Publicly, the district administration of Kandhamal may be trying desperately to downplay the week-long orgy of violence at Kurtamgarh and Gochhapada, but officials believe the roots of the flare-up this time lay in ethnicity rather than religion.

There were enough reasons for the deathly calm that hung over the battered district today. Late on Monday night, an angry mob of 500 tribals set fire to a police station at nondescript Gochhapada and gunned down a police jawan. Monday was a replay of last week’s attack in the Kurtamgarh area. A mob of tribals shot at a CRPF jawan, prompting the police to open fire in which four persons were killed.

DGP Gopal Chandra Nanda viewed the two incidents as “stray” and not linked to each other. He refused to admit the violence had a communal undertone. “The local sarpanch in Kurtamgarh, who was the target of the mob, was a Hindu,” he said. Rather, there were “ethnic reasons” behind the attack, felt Nanda, alluding to the distrust between the Kandha tribe and Dalits in some pockets of Kandhamal.

On the Gochhapada incident, the DGP said tribals generally targeted the police and police stations as they were “symbols of the government”.

Kandhamal witnessed a series of fierce ethnic clashes between the Kandha tribe and Dalits in 1994. Last December saw a return of the ethnic conflict that later turned into a communal carnage in which three persons were killed and hundreds of prayer houses, schools, hostels, hospitals and houses destroyed. However, the minorities do not agree with the DGP’s views on “ethnic issues” as the reason for the recent flare-ups. “The main target of the attacks in Kurtamgarh was Sisir Mallick, a Christian,” said Swarupananda Patra, president of Orissa Minority Forum, to prove his point. “Fundamentalist forces are instigating innocent and gullible tribals against the minorities,” he added. The truth would come to light once the identification of the people killed in the exchange of fire between the CRPF and the mob was established, he maintained.

Hindu leaders, on the other hand, blamed minorities for the violence in Kurtmagarh. Bajrang Dal national co-coordinator Subash Chouhan alleged the attack on the CRPF jawans was “masterminded” by the minorities, led by Mallick, to provoke the police to open fire at innocent tribals. Chouhan said the Gochhapada incident was a tribal backlash against the Kurtamgarh police firing in which eight tribals were killed. The Bajrang Dal leader alleged the anger within the villagers was seething as they were being terrorised by the police. “This may take an explosive situation statewide,” he warned.

DGP Nanda, however, denied the allegations and said the police were deployed to instil confidence among the villagers and prevent further violence. He said the mob violence in Kandhamal was transitory. Amid the blame game however, normalcy eludes the district where more than 20,000 riot-hit people have taken shelter at 14 relief camps and thousands have fled in fear.