Dr Girdhari Lal Bhan
On the evening of August 23, 2008, the Hindu holy day of Janmashtami, Swami Laxmananda and his four disciples were murdered in a brutal manner. This incident, the inaction on the part of the government to swiftly apprehend the murderers and the ensuing silence of the state and national media enraged the local Hindu population. This resulted in a state of civic disorder with clashes between the local Christian and Hindu communities. These disturbances resulted in damage to property and loss of limb and life suffered by people belonging to both the communities. Once the rioting had begun, the politicians and the media lost no time lambasting Hindu organisations for attacks on the Christian population, accusing them of religious intolerance, and worse.
owever, once this had happened, the politicianHowever, Swami Laxmananand had received several death threats from Christian sources during the previous few years, ever since he had started carrying out social service within the tribal regions in Orissa to provide to the tribals healthcare and education aid, and help with agriculture, irrigation, water supply and other welfare projects. Indeed he was severely assaulted, and nearly killed last December in a similar attack, when he had to undergo prolonged intensive care in hospital. In response to the grave concerns about his safety, the state government appointed a number of police personnel for his protection. One week before Swamiji’s murder, information had been received by the Orissa state intelligence about the planned murder, but no action was taken to provide him with increased protection. On the other hand, a few days prior to this fateful evening these CRPF personnel were withdrawn, to be replaced by four local policemen as his guards, but none of these had been provided with firearms. One day before his death, Swamiji received a letter threatening him with death because he was preventing Hindus from converting to Christianity. He passed this to the local police authorities while registering FIR (First Incident Report) at the local police station; the media were also informed. No action was taken to ensure his safety.
At around 7.00PM, a group of masked people entered the Kanya Ashrama (Girls Residential School) at Jalespata in Kandhamal. They began indiscriminate shooting using sophisticated weapons, killing Swamiji and his disciples – Sanyasini Mataji Bhaktimoyee, Prabhati Ganta, Puranjan Ganthi, Ambruta nanda baba, and Kishore baba (1). After Swamiji had been killed, the assailants set upon his dead body with sharp weapons, to mutilate it in a gruesome manner. Horrific wounds found on the body suggest the use of axes. Immediately afterwards, the assailants ran away from the village.
Swamiji was held in highest esteem by the local people as a saint, seer and supreme social worker. The news of the murders enraged his devotees and beneficiaries, who were sure that the killing was the handiwork of the Christian organisations. They gave chase to the escaping mob, several were caught, some identified as Christians, and handed over to the police.
[The police have arrested Pradesh Kumar Das, an employee of the World Vision, a Christian Charity, from Khadagpur while escaping from the district at Buguda. In another drive, two other persons Vikram Digal and William Digal have been arrested from the house of Lal Digal, a local militant Christian, from Nuasahi at Gunjibadi, Nuagaan. They have admitted to having joined a group of 28 other assailants.] (10)
Incriminating evidence – blood-stained clothes and masks, was found on some of these, and they were handed over to the police. Outraged by these murders, some of the tribal people went on rampage, damaging property belonging to the local Christian organisations. Nuns travelling in one vehicle, that was stopped, were allowed to leave unharmed and then the vehicle was set on fire. A local hut belonging to the Christians was torched. Unbeknown to the angry mob, a woman working there as a servant was trapped inside and killed by the fire. It was later established that this woman was a Hindu. Over the next few days, several clashes ensued between the Christians and Hindus. In Brahmanigaon, the epicentre of Church sponsored violence, Hindu houses were razed to the ground and the occupants had to flee to save their lives. The Christians attacked civilians as well as the police posts using sophisticated weapons and ferocity, backed by Maoist collaborators. Similarly in Kandhamal, clashes took place between members of the Hindu and Christian communities. Violence spread to Ganjam and Nayagarh districts. In the latter, fourteen policemen were killed. Police personnel who were sent to the scene of the unrest arrested several hundred Hindu protestors.
Government and the Media
The national media immediately swung into action, focussing their report on the attack on Churches. When a dead body of a woman was found within the burnt hut (vide supra) it was announced that ‘a nun had been burnt alive’. This was not the case.
When the local DGP (Director General of Police) announced that Swamiji had been killed by Maoists, the media began ‘breaking news’:
1) Swamiji and his disciples murdered by Maoists
2) The attack on the Christians that followed was pre-planned and carried out by people belonging
to Hindu organisations’.
The local DGP had issued his statement, ignoring the evidence available locally. It is believed he did so under pressure from politicians in Delhi. His statement increased the anger felt by the already grieving local Hindu population.
[‘….the charge against the Left radicals has been made without a shred of evidence in an utterly fraudulent attempt at a cover up…
… The administration will have to identify the perpetrators who may have targeted the Saraswati for his opposition to conversions and cow slaughter. Blaming it on the Maoists will not wash; arguably it may be intended only to protect the real culprits as the Hindu Jagran Samukhya claims…’] (4)
When faced with people’s anger, the DGP hastily retracted his statement, now saying that he had only spoken of a strong possibility of Maoists having killed Swamiji and his disciples, since the arms and ammunition that was used in the killing is normally used by the Maoists.
In the immediate aftermath of the pre-planned murder of Swamiji and his four disciples, the authorities announced that the killings had been carried out by the Maoists. But investigations into the tragic event had not even started.
Most of the national media did not report this event at all; a few that did, did so in a very cursory manner. When the riots followed, the same media went into an anti-Hindu frenzy, claiming that the attacks on the Christian property and tribals was pre-planned and carried out by named Hindus organisations, again before any investigations had been carried out and evidence obtained.
[Such illogical and unfair response is not new – the massive reaction evoked by the Gujarat riots, as against ‘no tears shed’ for the burning alive of Hindu passengers in a train.]
The Christian Missionary groups went into overdrive, lobbying the Government and the media. All Christian run educational institutions were ordered to be shut for a day, with warning that education of a large number of youth attending the Christian educational institutions would be at risk from further disruptions. A Church official issued a statement warning of the establishment of Christian militia.
Prime Minister of India called the attacks on Christians a ‘national disgrace’, but the PM had not expressed a similar sentiment following the murder of a revered Hindu Swami. This double-faced attitude towards majority vs minority communities is reminiscent of similar outrage expressed at the time of the gruesome murder some years ago of the Australian Missionary, Graham Staines, and his children, but silence when Hindus are killed. While all acts of violence and of murder MUST be condemned, and the criminals brought to justice, it seems that when it comes to murder of Hindus, condemnation remains either muted or outright absent. This is not the first murder of a respected Hindu swami in India by terrorists. In Tripura, about eight years ago, Shri Shantikali Maharaj was killed by the missionary extremists. Shantikali Maharaj also opposed the religious conversion work being carried out by the missionaries, and reawakened the Hindu spirit of his people. He was also asked to vacate and leave the Ashram, but he fearlessly opposed and stood up to their threat. They entered inside the Ashram and killed him. However, the Hindus in Tripura did not resort to violent acts. Thus, the media did not care to report about the killing of Hindu sanyasi. Indeed, over the years, many Hindu social workers have been murdered in diverse places like Assam, Mizoram, Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, without ever exercising the conscience of the politicians and the media. Swami Laxmananada’s murder was no news, but the demonstrations, dharnas and bandhs by girijans in protest against his murder was, a clear example of callous disregard and inaction when the victims are Hindu.
Appendix I – Evangelisation of Hindus the root cause of the trouble:
That Christian missionary activity has been intense and sustained in Orissa, esp. in the tribal regions, is universally acknowledged. This has given rise to a phenomenal growth in the Christian population*, adversely affecting communal harmony between the Hindu and Christian communities. That acts of large scale organised religious conversion do give rise to adverse social effects, has previously been established and documented by judicial inquiries (ref: Niyogi Commission Report 1956, Wadhwa Commission Report 1999) – when a member of a family changes his/her faith it causes anguish and tensions within the family; similarly peace and harmony within the village are harmed with clashes taking place between members of the two communities, esp. at the time of local religious festivals. Besides, when in the act of proselytisation, Christian Missionaries undertake vilification of the Hindu faith and culture, it causes deep hurt in the minds of Hindus.
Christian Missionaries often refer to the right to freedom and propagation of religion granted by the Constitution of India [Article 25(1)] interpreting it as a licence to undertake conversion. In 1977, Rev. Stanislaus challenged the 1968 Madhya Pradesh legislation to regulate religious conversion (13) in the Supreme Court of India. But the Supreme Court (14) held that what Article 25 grants is freedom to transmit or spread one’s religion by an exposition of its tenets, but not the right to convert someone out of his/her religion:
‘There is no fundamental right to convert another person to one’s own religion because if a person purposely undertakes the conversion of another person to his religion…. That would impinge on the ‘freedom of conscience’ guaranteed to all the citizens of the country alike’… ‘We find no justification for the view that it grants a fundamental right to convert persons to one’s own religion… what is freedom for one is freedom for another in equal measure and there can therefore be no such thing as a Fundamental Right to convert any person to one’s religion…
Legislatures of Madhya Pradesh and Orissa do have legislative competence to enact these laws…
Expression ‘public order’ is of wide connotation. If a thing disturbs the current of the life of the community and does not merely affect an individual, it would amount to disturbance of the public order…
Restrictions may be imposed on the rights guaranteed… in the interests of public order. The impugned Acts therefore fall within the purview of Entry I of List II of the 7th Schedule as they are meant to avoid disturbances to the public order by prohibiting conversion from one religion to another in a manner reprehensible to the conscience of the community. The two Acts do not provide for the regulation of religion, and we do not find any justification for the argument that they fall under the Entry 97 of List I of the 7th Schedule.’
[*2001 Census revealed that in Orissa, there are 62 Scheduled tribes, with a population of 1.5 million people – the largest tribe called Kandhas is still mostly Hindu, whereas the Panas tribe has been mostly converted to Christianity. It showed that between 1961 and 2001, the population of Hindus had gone up 1.5 times, from 3,04,459 to 5,27,757, while that of the Christians went up by 6 times, from 19,128 to 1,17,950. Since 2001, there has been a further large-scale increase in this population. On BBC Radio 4 on Sep 7, 2008 it was reported that in Kandhamal the Christian population has in recent years gone up from 6% to 27%.]
Aware of the social discord resulting from religious conversions, and in accordance with the recommendations of the Niyogi Commission (12) Orissa Government undertook legislation to control these activities:
The Orissa Freedom of Religion Act 1967
Orissa Freedom of Religion Rules 1989
These stipulate that each intended act of conversion should be notified to the local District Magistrate 15 days in advance. The person converting should declare before a Magistrate 1st Class that he intends to convert his religion of his own free will.
The state records reveal that between 1991 and 2008 only two Hindus have converted to Christianity. Clearly, the large scale conversions are not being reported and registered.
Wadhwa Commission in 1999 made further recommendations to regulate religious conversions. More recently other States have passed legislation to prohibit organised conversions, but ignoring the harmful effects conversion have on individuals, their families, and communities, missionaries have continued with their work, supported by massive influx of funds from overseas.
Appendix II – Swami Laxmananadji
The late Swamiji had been working as a social worker in Orissa since the 1960s, esp. in the Phulbani district. His work had included provision of education to tribal children, of residential schools, colleges and girls hostels in Chakapad and Jalaspara, and provision of vocational training to make the poor tribal people self-sufficient. He had made available to the tribals high-yielding crop seeds and agricultural implants, and this has resulted in a green revolution in the area. He arranged for the availability of trained doctors to improve healthcare. He opposed the religious conversion activities of Christian Missionaries, and cow slaughter. This did not go well with the Christian Missionaries.
‘…In the early fifties, he made the tribal dominated Kandhamal region, a hotbed of religious fundamentalism, his home and since then he has been fighting conversions…
…As the politicking goes on, all sides conveniently ignore the root cause, and allow the communal elements to have a field day. Widespread religious conversion is an unpleasant reality despite stringent laws enacted in the late sixties…’ (9)
‘Trauma in ashram, schoolgirls witnessed Swami’s murder’ – Ravik Bhattacharya
The Indian Express
August 29, 2008
‘Swami Laxmanananda: murder foretold’ – Shreerang Godbole
August 30, 2008
‘Why was Lakshmananand killed?’ – Hrusikesh Panda
August 24, 2008.
‘Mayhem in Orissa – Blaming it on the Maoists won’t wash’
August 26, 2008
‘Maoists deny role in VHP leader’s murder’
‘The Evangelical Project in Orissa’
August 28, 2008
‘Fires of Religious Conversion’
Editorial (English translation) – Andhra Bhoomi,
August 29, 2008
‘For Christ’s sake’ – Chandan Mitra
September 7, 2008
‘Dark Portents in Orissa’
The New Indian Express
August 27, 2008
‘Message in Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati’s murder and aftermath’ – Saurav Basu
The Business of Faith – Amrita Singh
Sunday Times of India, Page 17, New Delhi
September 7, 2008
Niyogi Commission 1956 – Report and Recommendations
Madhya Pradesh Dharma Swatantraya Adhiniyam 1968
Supreme Court Judgement 1977 AIR 1977 SC 908
Wadhwa Commission of Inquiry 1999