Father A K Singh gets National Award for serving Minorities in Orissa
Father Ajay Kumar Singh, a Catholic Priest of Cuttuck-Bhubaneswar Archdiocese was awarded the National Minority Rights Award for his campaign against the 2008 Kandhamal riots in Odisha amid a controversy over his selection at a function held in New Delhi on July 05. The National Commission for Minority Rights organized the program to mark the Minority Rights Day in the country. The award carries a citation and a cash prize of Rs.2,00,000, which is a new component introduced in the award from this year. Somnath Chatterjee, Ex-Speaker, Lok Sabha has consented to be the Chief Guest at the function.
Father Ajay Kumar Singh
Father Singh was honoured for his work to secure the human and social rights of the victims of the 2008 anti-Christian violence in Orissa's Kandhamal district in 2007-08. He told that Odisha Government had "appreciated" the award given to him and he was not aware if it had expressed any opposition.
It was reported that the local administration had opposed the commission's decision on the ground that it would disturb communal harmony in the area. Father Singh, after receiving the award, said that the victims of Kandhamal violence are still awaiting rehabilitation. "Most of the accused in 30 out 32 murders cases have been acquitted. So there is a feeling that justice is not being done to the victims. This award is a recognition of their struggle and the fact that they cannot be subjugated," Father Singh said.
National Commission for Minorities
The Chairperson of the Commission, Wajahat Habibullah said the annual event, which was not held last year, would go a long way in "mainstreaming the concerns of minorities". “Kandhamal was a national tragedy. Efforts are going on the restore life as usual in that area but there has not been full rehabilitation after so many years of the riots,” Wajahat Habibullah added.
The National Commission for Minorities says it is granting the award for his long standing contributions for the minorities in Odisha and other States and particularly his continuous engagements for the promotion of the rights of the victims of Kandhamal, which is highly noteworthy, it adds.
Former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, who gave away the award, called for setting up a Parliamentary Committee for minorities as their rights continue to be "violated" despite constitutional guarantee for it. "A large number of violations of their (minorities) rights are reported" and it was high time a parliamentary committee for them was constituted on the line of the Committee for the Welfare of SC & STs, Chatterjee said. He also felt that the long-pending demand for an equal opportunity committee also needed to be looked into before any delay.
Kandhamal was the epicentre of anti-Christian violence in Orissa, which claimed some 100 lives and displaced 50,000 in a seven week-long violence since August 2008. Groups of Hindu fanatics looted, burnt or destroyed thousands of houses, 250 churches and scores of Christian institutions, besides attacking and raping several women, one of them a nun. Few of the perpetrators were arrested; many are still free on bail.
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