Swami Laxmanananda: murder foretold
by Shreerang Godbole on 30 Aug 2008 0 Comment

The gruesome murder of 84-year old Swami Laxmanananda in Kandhamal, Orissa, has exposed the ease with which evangelical groups can access guns, grenades, and other murderous weapons in the pursuit of their agenda to impose their own religion by annihilating local faiths and cultures everywhere.


No one takes seriously the administration claim that the murder is the handiwork of Maoists. It is another matter that in Kandhamal there is little to differentiate Christians and Maoists – the cadres reputedly overlap, and both share the common goal of uprooting Hindu dharma.  Indian media followed the Western media in raising a hue and cry over the murder of evangelist Graham Staines, but did not show the same respect to the octogenarian Swami who devoted his life to the welfare of the most downtrodden tribal communities.


The media gave space to the asinine remarks of Australian evangelist Gladys Staines, who has no locus standi to comment on the internal affairs of India, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was quick to give audience to well-organised Christian leaders after the Bishop of Rome expressed displeasure over native Hindu reaction to grave provocation. The Italian origin and Roman Catholic faith of Congress party president Sonia Gandhi cannot be overlooked in this context – it constitutes a sub-text to the Christian vociferousness, which seeks to drown out the fact that the Krishna Janmasthami murders in the ashram premises was an exceedingly well-organised and premeditated crime.


The tremendous and spontaneous Hindu reaction – paralleling the upsurge over the Amarnath yatra land issue in Jammu – has taken the nation by surprise. But the root causes of the Orissa unrest have been completely glossed over by the media.


Kandhamal is part of the erstwhile undivided district of Phulbani; it was carved into a separate district on 1 April 1994.  It derives its name from the Kandh (Kondha) tribes who dominate the area, comprising approximately 51.96% of the 6.5 lakh population of the district. Kandhs are Hindus and enjoy Scheduled Tribe status.


The other community with a significant local presence is the Panas, a Scheduled Caste, who constitute about 16.89% of the district population. The Panas are overwhelmingly Christian and are educationally, economically and politically more advanced. They were the prime targets of the pioneering Christian missionaries who settled in Katingia village of Daringibadi block of Kandhamal in 1883. The Kandh tribe led by Chakara Bisoi, Dohara Bisoi, Dina Kondh and Lochana Kondh valiantly fought the British in 1857, and it was only in 1884 that the British finally managed to subdue this region with the help of converted Panas from present-day Ganjam and Nayagarh districts bordering Kandhamal. 


Through untiring efforts spanning four decades, Swamiji succeeded in awakening the Kandhs. This in turn posed a major threat to the political and economic hegemony of the Church. The converted Panas are highly placed in Government and politics. Rajya Sabha MP Radha Kant Nayak is a converted Pana and a blue-eyed boy of the Congress president. He doubles up as chief of the local chapter of World Vision, a highly energetic Christian outfit. Nayak is also connected with the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). He uses his MP’s fund to distribute largesse to converted Panas through his own NGO called ‘Nishwas’. His alleged role in the murderous attack on Swami Laxmanananda on 24 December 2007 has not been probed to the satisfaction of the local populace.


Christian bureaucrats like Issac Behera and retired IPS officer John Nayak, Lok Sabha MP Sugrib Singh, and former Steel and Mines Minister Padmanabh Behera are other heavyweights who are hand-in-glove with missionaries. The Church reportedly gets massive funds from USA, Italy, Australia and several European countries, and Swami Laxmanananda’s demand for an enquiry into the quantum of foreign funds flowing into the region and their utilization should in the fitness of things be accorded the status of the last testament.


There is a long-standing dispute between converted Panas and Hindu Kandh tribals. Under the law, Panas cannot own forest land as they are not Scheduled Tribes. Throwing legality to the winds, several converted Panas have illegally grabbed forest land.  Kandhs who have been rendered landless are forced to work as farm labourers on lands illegally occupied by Panas. Seething discontent over this state of affairs first manifested in the 1994 Kandh-Pana clashes that left 50 persons dead. 


Despite a High Court order to evict encroached land, Christians continue to illegally occupy the land. Being Scheduled Castes, Panas are legally not allowed reservation benefits after conversion. One way they get around this law is by concealing their conversion. Radha Kant Nayak, a 1962 batch IAS officer, is widely reputed to have gained entry into the IAS through Scheduled Caste quota by fraudulently concealing his convert status. The growing clamour for public scrutiny of such cases is said to be behind the setting up of the Justice Ranganath Mishra Commission, which expectedly recommended reservation benefits for all SC converts.


Another way to beat this law is by securing Scheduled Tribe status. This will enable Panas to enjoy reservation even after conversion, as an oversight in the Constitution did not deprive ST converts of reservation rights. Naturally, Church-inspired organizations such as the Phulbani Kui Jana Kalyan Sangh are clamouring for Scheduled Tribe status for Panas. 


Moreover, the delimitation of constituencies has resulted in the reservation of the lone Lok Sabha and all Vidhan Sabha Assembly segments for Scheduled Tribes. The posts of President of the Zilla Parishad, Block Chairmen and majority of elected Zilla Parishad members and posts in Panchayati Raj institutions have also been reserved for Scheduled Tribes. The flip side of this is a loss of political and social relevance for the Christian Panas and the Church. Hence the sense of urgency in the demand for Scheduled Tribe status for Christian Panas.


The Kandhs speak the Kui dialect, which is also known to the majority of Panas.  Disregarding the fact that ‘Kui’ is a dialect, not a community, Panas are falsely claiming to be Kuis and demanding ST status! 


In 1981, the J.B. Patnaik government bowed to the Christian lobby and recommended that Kuis be included in the list of Scheduled Tribes. The Christian lobby won a major victory in 2002 when a Presidential order included Kuis in the list of STs. The Phulbani Kui Jana Kalyan Sangh promptly filed a writ petition in the High Court claiming that in Kandhamal district, Kuis were wrongly listed as a Scheduled Caste instead of Scheduled Tribe in land revenue records and consequently deprived of Constitutional concessions granted to STs. 


Finally, the High Court asked the State Government to take a decision in the matter. Mercifully, the State Government submitted that as the Record of Rights of the Panas did not mention them as a Scheduled Tribe, their demand could not be met. The Orissa Government has consistently maintained that “this demand is not based on historical and anthropological facts.”


Kandh organizations such as Phulbani Kui Seva Samiti, Nikhil Utkal Kui Samaj, Kui Kul Samiti and Kui Sanskritik Parishad are struggling to stave off the Pana demand for Scheduled Tribe status. They have formed an umbrella organization called Kui Samanvaya Samiti to safeguard the rights of Kandhs. 


More than anyone else, Swami Laxmanananda was a symbol of Kandh hopes and aspirations.  The missionaries knew that the resurgent Kandh Hindus could force them to close shop.  With Swamiji out of the way, the Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar, Msgr. Raphael Cheenath could afford to indulge in some bluster. Speaking after Swamiji’s murder, Cheenath bragged that the roots of the Church in these parts were deep and that the Church would continue to provide light for generations to come.


In Jammu, Hindus have risen in the defence of Dharma, throwing up new leaders in the process. Orissa – land of Jagannath, Lingaraja, Kalinga-Jina – cannot lag behind. It owes this much to Swamiji.


Dr. Godbole is a Pune-based endocrinologist, social activist and author. He has contributed in making www.savarkar.org

User Comments Post a Comment

Back to Top