February 1, 2010: “Interim report of Justice B K Somasekhara Commission -"Strong impression is created that the members belonging to Bhajarang Dal, Sri Rama Sene, and the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) etc. are mainly responsible for attacking churches or places of worship, mainly in Mangalore and South Canara (Dakshina Kannada) districts spreading to other districts and other parts of the state."
January 28, 2011: The Final Report - “There is no basis to the apprehension of Christian petitioners that the politicians, the BJP, mainstream Sangha Parivar and the state government directly or indirectly, are involved in the attacks.”
Mangalore, Feb 21, 2011: The one member panel of Justice BK Somasekhara that was constituted to probe into the September 2008 church attacks in Mangalore and various parts of the state, in its final report submitted to the State Government on January 28 has virtually absolved the State Government as well as the Sangh Parivar of being a part of the attacks, giving a rude shock to the Christian community which is still trying to recover from the sorrow and grief over attacks on its places of worship by the fundamentalist groups, that too just four months after the BJP government took charge in the state.
If the interim report of the Commission had rekindled hopes among the laity that this Commission could secure justice to them, the final report has come in as a great disappointer. The highlights of the report, released to the press after submission of the full report to Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, does not specifically hold any individual or organization responsible for the attacks, saying the “circumstances were diverse” and treated individually in the full report.
On expected lines, the Commission Report has invited sharp reaction from a cross section of the society. If the BJP and its Sangh Parivar cadres are immensely pleased by the report, the opposition Congress, Janata Dal and the various Christian organizations have come down heavily on the report saying ‘The Government has got what it wanted.”
The Congress leadership came out sharply saying the commission headed by a "handpicked" retired judge failed to make an independent examination of the issue. Union law minister, M Veerappa Moily, has slammed the Commission report and has sought a CBI probe into the incidents to bring out the truth. He accused the BJP Government in Karnataka of ‘hijacking’ a judicial commission probing the attacks on churches in the state in 2008. Just because a commission gave a report, truth cannot be buried, it should come out and the state government should make sincere efforts towards it,” Moily said.
He also pointed to contradictions in the final and interim reports submitted by the Commission. “Always any Commission’s final report should be taken into account along with the interim report. In this case, it was very clear in the interim report submitted in February 2010 where there was mention about involvement of Bhajrangdal and failure on the part of police and district administrations in discharging their duties,”Moily said.
However, the commission which has come up with a clarification, in the wake of widespread criticisms, has said that the final report should be read in continuation with the interim report submitted on February 1, 2010.
The interim report was submitted only after a part of the inquiry was completed. It was made clear in that report that whatever was stated was “impressions recorded with prima facie materials and subject to final report.” But, the Commission, contrary to the general notion, has not spared the Hindu outfits. In its final report, the Justice Somasekara Commission has only suspected the role of the Bhajrangdal Dal in attack on at least nine churches or prayer halls in Chikmagalur, Udupi and Dakshina Kannada districts.
In the course of the report, the commission often mentions the extreme pro-Hindu outfit many times, referring to the organization behind the attacks as ‘suspected to be Bhajrang Dal’. Whereas in case of attack on Adoration Monastery in Mangalore, the attack on which was “atrocious”, the commission clearly states, the attack was by “workers of Bhajrang Dal led by Mahendra Kumar or enraged Hindus”. In this case, the Commission does not use the phrase ‘suspected Bhajrang Dal’. However, the only individual named in the highlights of the report is the then Bhajrang Dal State Convenor, Mahendra Kumar, for “publicly justifying attacks.”
However, Mahendra Kumar is unhappy over this. He says "My statement was a reaction to the events of that day. I justified the incident in the light of the literature `Satyadarshini’ and the `alleged’ conversions that were taking place. I never said I was the instigator or I was behind the attacks." He also prefers to describe the Somasekara Commission Report as ‘Government influenced and confusing.”
Meanwhile, Bhajrangdal state Convener Suryanarayana, argues that the Commission has not found fault with the outfit in the attacks. About mention of Mahendra Kumar’s name in the report, Suryanarayana said he (Mahendra Kumar) in his personal capacity had expressed views supporting the attacks and his name had figured in the report because of that reason.
The report states it got the impression that Bhajrang Dal workers harassed people gathered at Capitanio High School in Mangalore. In Belthangady, Madanthyar Mahima Prarthana Mandira was attacked by men “said to be workers of Bhajrang Dal,” the Commission said.
Roman Catholic (RC) church heads from the state have termed the report by Justice B K Somasekhara Commission "along expected lines, partisan, ambiguous and disappointing”. They said they felt let down and might opt for a legal recourse to seek justice.
M P Noronha, advocate for Christians says “When the Commission was constituted to go into a matter of public importance, the key question on the minds of the public was the answer to the question of why the attacks happened, who was behind it, as well as the question of the responsibility of the state government for the attacks.
It is deeply disappointing that a Commission, after working for two years, has no strong conclusions on these points, he adds.
A statement from the Bishop’s office of Mangalore Catholic Diocese said, “The Commission had failed to suggest to the government any measures against the organizations and people, who were responsible for attacks on churches and on Milagres Adoration Monastery." “The report has given contradicting views and some sections had been seriously opinionated which does not give scope for punishing the attackers. The report does not satisfy the Christian community in any way,” it said.
The Commission’s assessment in case of each district has been different. The report also states that more than Dakshina Kannada district which is home to maximum number of churches in the state, some of the ghastly attacks on prayer halls and churches had taken place in Davangere, without provocation.
The Karnataka Missions Network too has slammed the failure of the Justice B K Somasekhara Commission of Inquiry to name and pinpoint the persons who attacked churches, with the plea for lack of evidence. Walter J Maben, Chairman of Karnataka Missions Network, says the attacks were not spontaneous but it was a very well-planned scheme, which the perpetrators could execute simultaneously in different places of Dakshina Kannada and neighbouring districts. Only an organization and not an individual could have done this. The government is fully responsible for these attacks, which could have been prevented and the government would have had intelligence reports on such an attack brewing.”
Even, Ivan D’Souza, a prominent Christian leader in Mangalore, has termed the report as directionless and biased.
The 1000 page report gives details of 57 churches, prayer halls that were attacked in nine districts across the state and blames some officials for their ‘lackadaisical attitude ‘ in naming vandals.
The Commission has submitted 21 recommendations making it obligatory on the part of the government to ensure protection to all religions and their institutions in the state. Some of them include early payment of compensation for damage to property/injured victims, ban on entry of police into religious places. It also wants the government to implement the recommendations within six months.
Yet another recommendation has been to enact a special legislation to prevent atrocities on any person in the name of religion. It also wants the Government to constitute a Commission of Religions with statutory powers, comprising representatives of all religions through their religious heads to ensure freedom of religion.
Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa has already said action would be taken based on the report, after the law and home ministries examine it. “We will table the report before the legislature and take action to implement the recommendations by Justice BK Somasekhara commission,” he has said.
The Government seems happy with the Final Report of the Justice Somasekhara Commission.Prima facie almost clear that the government had the report finalized in the way which it wanted, as suspected by several opposition parties as well as various organisations. When the whole world knows who were the perpetrators of the attack particularly in churches in Dakshina Kannada district, as they (perpetrators) had gone on record to claim responsibility for the attack, including a VHP leader, what prevented the Commission from directly blaming them for the attacks, is a question that the Christian community is asking. After over a two year long hearing and several sittings, the Commission has clearly failed to give a clear-cut verdict. There is no confusion in the minds of the public as to who were the perpetrators of the attack. But the Commission still seems to have a doubt as it has failed to come out with a clear-cut judgement. Why Why Why? The liberal minded people of Dakshina Kannada in general and the Christian community in particular are questioning.