Kandhmal: anti-conversion law imperative

source: Vijayavani, 27 August 2008

Kandhmal: anti-conversion law imperative
Sandhya Jain
27 August 2008

In a
virtual replay of the post-Godhra riots of 2002, the secular and
foreign media has worked overtime to delink the ugly, provocative
murder of 80-year-old Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four disciples
on Krishna Janmastami day with the violence that subsequently rocked
some districts in Orissa. This is simply not on.

 

 

Swami
Laxmanananda was actively involved in the protection of tribal dharma
from aggressive Christian evangelists in the state’s tribal belt since
1966. He was killed in his crowded ashram at Jalespata, Kandhmal
district, while performing Janmastami prayers. The murder came close on
the heels of a letter warning he would suffer for preventing Hindus
from converting to Christianity; in fact, his efforts had caused
thousands of tribals to return to the Hindu fold, to the chagrin of the
missionaries.

 

As the
Swami had been previously attacked on 25 December 2007 for the same
reason, he personally lodged a complaint with the police and enclosed
the threatening letter along with the FIR. He sought police protection,
but fell to the determination of his assailants before it could arrive.
A gang of 20 to 25 goons barged into his ashram around 9.35 pm,
lobbed a hand-grenade at the gathering of devotees, and fired
indiscriminately with sophisticated weapons, killing Swami Laxmanananda
and four ashram inmates, including Mata Bhaktimayee, on the spot.

 

Initially, the administration suggested that the killers could be Maoists, identifying a group
known as the People’s Liberation Revolutionary Group. But Hindu leaders
vigorously refuted this, accusing Christian groups of sponsoring the
attack, especially as the district witnessed fierce Christian violence
against Hindus last Christmas. A BJP state leader Suresh Pujari said
Swami Laxmanananda had no enmity with the Red rebels, and was only
opposed to religious conversion taking place in various parts of
Orissa. He alleged that those opposed to the saint’s anti-conversion
activities had killed him.

 

However,
it may be pertinent to note that most Maoist activists in the district
are also recent converts to Christianity. Security forces are said to
have seized 20 guns from 47 Maoists arrested in connection with the
burning of villages inhabited by Hindus. In this respect, the murder of
Swami Laxmanananda may be said to closely resemble the murder of Swami
Shanti Kali ji Maharaj in Tripura in August 2000; he too was shot in
his own ashram by gun-wielding goons after several dire warnings for
anti-conversion activities in the state’s tribal belt. Subsequently,
Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar admitted the involvement of the
Baptist church with the insurgency in the state.

 

It is surely pertinent that Orissa
police arrested one Pradesh Kumar Das, an employee of the aggressive
Christian organisation, World Vision, from Khadagpur, while trying to
escape from the district at Buguda.
Two other neo-converts,
Vikram Digal and William Digal were arrested from the house of Lal
Digal, a local militant Christian, from Nuasahi at Gunjibadi, Nuagaan.
They admitted having joined a group of 28 other assailants. Orissa has
also seen an influx of rich American Baptists, for obvious reasons.

 

In a
television debate on the violence that followed the Ashram murders,
Biju Janata Dal MP Tathagata Satpathy asserted that regardless of the
actual efficacy of an anti-conversion ban, there could be little doubt
that there was an urgent need for anti-conversion legislation as
aggressive evangelization was seriously harming the social fabric of
the state.

 

Violence
broke out in the state as public sentiments ran high when the body of
Swami Laxmanananda reached Chakapada in Kandhamal district for last
rites; some shops and vehicles were torched though Home Secretary
Tarunkanti Mishra said the bandh called by the Sangh Parivar was “total
and by and large peaceful.”

 

It is
true that two persons, including one woman, were burnt to death when
unidentified persons torched an orphanage run by a Christian
organisation at Phutpali in Bargarh district. The twenty children at
the orphanage were unhurt. One Rasananda Pradhan was also burnt to
death when his house was set ablaze at Rupa village in Kandhamal
district. Nearly a dozen churches were attacked in Khurda, Bargarh,
Sundergarh, Sambalpur, Koraput, Boudh, Mayurbhanj, Jagatsinghpur and
Kandhamal districts and Bhubhaneswar.

 

Yet the
secular media, particularly the electronic media, has highlighted the
violence of the post-Ashram murders as though it were a suo moto,
unprovoked assault by the Hindu community, particularly the agitating
VHP cadres, completely glossing over the original sin. Media has sought
to diminish Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati by calling him a ‘VHP leader’
opposed to conversions – as though that vindicates his murder! In
contrast, a woman who died in the subsequent violence was erroneously
and repeatedly identified as a ‘nun’ and projected as a victim of
religious persecution.

 

The
truth is otherwise. It is those working overtime – with foreign funds
and foreign missionaries – to annihilate the native faith of this
country who are aggressors and cultural iconoclasts; this point needs
to be understood by all concerned. In the specific context of Orissa,
there is need to revisit the sensational murder of Australian
missionary Graham Staines in January 1999, and honestly assess the
tribal anguish that led to that sad denouement. One of the reasons why
there has been no sober voice on the Staines murder is the tragic fact
that his two minor sons died with him; but now that we are nearly a
decade away from that event, we need to give the tribal agony due
respect. A blanket ban on missionaries operating in tribal areas could
go far to assuage tribal feelings. Indeed, the recognition that
missionaries may have gone too far in provoking the increasingly
affirmative Hindu community forced some Christian groups to condemn the
murder of Swami Laxmanananda by evangelist religious fanatics.

No doubt
the Judicial Commission set up by the Orissa Government under Justice
Basudev Panigrahi will bring out the truth about the previous December
2007 violence in which Swami Laxmanananda was attacked; he escaped four
attempts on his life before falling to the last attack. The
Commission’s findings will also throw light on the events that resulted
in his eventual murder.

Initial
reports suggest that Swami Laxmanananda was also active in the movement
against illegal beef trading, and was demanding a high level probe into
an alleged illegal beef trading racket in Kandhamal. The multi-faceted
Swami devoted considerable energy to the socio-economic development of
local people in remote areas of Orissa. He opened several social
service institutions including schools and hostels for tribal boys and
girls, with free education and hostel facilities. This cut at the roots
of the evangelists and created much ill-will towards him.

 

A major
reason for the heightened tensions in Kandhamal over the past few
months was due to the fact that the important Kandha (Kondh) tribe was
extremely vigilant about protecting its religion and culture. The
second local group, the Scheduled Caste Panas, have mostly converted to
Christianity.

 

As a
result of conversion, the Panas lost the reservation benefits due to
SCs under the constitution. Guided by the missionaries, they began to
agitate for Scheduled Tribe status on the specious plea that they also
spoke Kui, the mother tongue of the Kondhs, which is also the principal
language of the district. This agitation created deep apprehensions in
the minds of the Hindu STs and SCs, that converts would grab their
reservation benefits. Their fears deepened when the UPA-appointed
Justice Ranganath Mishra Commission recommended extension of all
reservation facilities to converts among the Dalits, which would
include the Panas in Orissa.

 

Swami
Laxmanananda Saraswati took this simmering discontent head-on, calling
for an open debate on conversions, which were at the root of the unrest
in tribal-dominated areas. He asserted: “I have told the National Human
Rights team that conversion and foreign funding to NGOs were the
reasons behind communal riots in Kandhamal.” He asked the NHRC to probe
the fake caste (Scheduled Tribe) certificates fraudulently obtained by
non-tribals and take appropriate action against them.

 

Now that
this valiant warrior for Hindu civilisation and India ’s foundational
ethos has been struck down, the State and Central Government owe it to
the nation to scrutinize the flow of foreign funds to Christian
missionaries and make public the manner of their utilization. There
must also be a complete ban on the foreign funding of faiths not
indigenous to this soil.

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