Kandhamal Swamiji’s Murder And After
After two years of murder of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and the mass reaction that led to tribal attack on the converted Christians in Kandhamal, when we sit down to assess the present situation it is one of grim and cruel reality that the Kandhamal population is divided by a dichotomy; the killers and beneficiaries of its aftermath and the rest who are being hounded by the police in name of prosecution against some 85,000 alleged assailants who are residents in the places where communal violence occurred in the district in 2008 and December 2007. When the population is divided into two warring camps it is improbable to expect that normalcy would be restored and communal harmony is rebuilt. Even after two years the killers and the conspirators behind Swamiji’s murder have not been nabbed by the investigating police, perhaps due to the lurking fear that it would unravel the story hitherto unknown. There has been strong suspicion against Dr John Dayal and Archbishop Raphael Chinnath that this duo along with Dr Radhakant Nayak, conspired to eliminate Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, who was the main obstacle behind the conversion spree in Kandhamal with more than 70 per cent of its population, comprising Dalits and tribes, very fertile in Missionary scale for ‘harvest of souls’. Incidentally, all three of them had left Bhubaneswar on the August 22, 2008, a day before the murder of Swamiji and there is enough evidence available that Dr John Dayal knew in advance as what was to happen on the following day.
It may be recalled that Swamiji was killed at the age of 84 along with three of his followers who came to rescue him on the face of imminent death. The gruesome multiple murders are yet to be detected. But the police have shown undue alacrity in the alleged nun rape (non-existent and vastly exaggerated) case in which connection, 21 persons have already been arrested and are being harassed in the name of prosecution. In 3,300 and odd other cases of alleged arson and attack on houses/churches, more than 782 persons have been detained and tried by two fast track courts and more than 11,200 accused have obtained anticipatory bail to escape calculated police harassment. 80 per cent of cases tried and finally disposed of, by the fast track courts specially constituted for Kandhamal violence has ended in acquittal of the accused persons due to want of evidence. The remaining twenty per cent of cases have ended in conviction of some of the accused by default as the defense was weak.
The Archbishop at Bhubaneswar, along with Dr John Dayal—the Dalit-Christians leader in India—has succeeded in influencing the western countries led by Vatican Pope in pumping lots of foreign dollars in aid of the affected Christian population in the district. This is in addition to the compensation that the state government has been forced to liberally contribute for the reconstruction of churches and houses, allegedly damaged during the riots, notwithstanding the genuineness of ownership of the land in question, in the name of Supreme Court order though there is no such order. As a result, there has been multiple benefit to the extent of seven lakh per individual among 30,000 Christians and more than 700 churches claimed to have been damaged by Archbishop Raphael Chinnath in a petition before the Supreme Court. A delegate of representatives from eight different European countries visited Kandhamal in February 2010, which even made an abortive attempt to meet the Fast Track Court Judges at Phulbani, the district headquarters, to influence their decisions while hearing the cases, but foiled due to strong protest by the members of the local Bar Association. On the 6th March, the Archbishop called a Press conference in Bhubaneswar and openly criticised with impunity the Indian justice delivery system, which amounts to serious contempt of Courts.
On the other hand, about 85,000 Kandha people, who are innocent but because their names have been purposefully selected from the voters list, have been falsely implicated in criminal cases registered on basis of 3300 complaints manufactured by hired advocates in various relief camps much after the alleged incidents. They in hundreds and thousands are moving in the nearby jungles leaving behind their home and hearth, for escape from police torture. The non-Christian victims of the communal carnage following Swamiji’s brutal killing are deprived of even the government relief and instead, they received police canning. This salt-to-the-injury treatment has obviously pushed the majority to the wall-seeking collective justice and strengthened further the wall between them and the converts. This being the ground reality, it is ironical that John Dayal and Raphael Chinnath are organising a three day seminar in Constitutional Club at New Delhi, alleging ‘pogrom’ by ‘fundamentalist Hindus’ and injustice by judiciary as well as the executive under an assumed platform called National Solidarity Forum comprising church based NGOs. They are holding “National Public Tribunal” associating people like Mahesh Bhatt and Javed Akhtar and misusing the names of jurists like Ex-Chief Justice of India Mr JS Verma and Justice Sachar, and not allowing people from Kandhamal to speak before the so-called Public Tribunal with a jury headed by disgruntled retired judges. There is not even a whisper about the very genesis of the present crisis—that is the killing of Swamiji in 2008—that led to such mass violence. Who are those who had conspired this brutal murder that has pushed the whole peaceful community who were living with total harmony for ages? The perpetrators themselves are shouting for justice in company of those who sitting in Delhi are strangers to the place, the people and their problems. There are two judicial commissions of enquiry holding hearings in Odisha on Kandhamal incidents with which Dr John Dayal and Raphael Chinnath are seemingly not co-operating but are seen organising protest seminars in New Delhi. If we are really sincere in our efforts to bring back peace and harmony in Kandhamal, we must be impartial and unbiased to the local causes.
The local causes leading to communal disharmony are numerous that are compounded by actors from outside Odisha who have their own agenda like conversion to Christianity and alienate the marginalised Dalits as well as the tribes from the mainstream. The elected legislators in Odisha Assembly could smell such a foul intention and came out with a legislation called Orissa Freedom of Religion Act with intent to protect the religious freedom of poor and the uneducated against allurement, inducement, fraudulence, cheating, bribery and coercion. This Act of 1967 was challenged in the Supreme Court on grounds of Constitutional validity and the apex court declared it to be valid and held that under Article 25 the Constitution has guaranteed the freedom of religion by protecting the citizen’s right to profess his religion and propagate his religion but that does not include his right to convert from other religions. Despite a legal restraint against conversion the church has been engaged in ‘harvesting of souls’ in response to millions of dollar that are pumped into India by donors from the USA, UK, Canada, Germany, Australia, Netherlands, Denmark, Italy and France besides other countries. In lieu of service rendered to the poor and the uneducated the missionaries rob them of their faith, a practice contrary to established human values. A true service does not expect anything in return but the Christian missions all over the world aim at converting the beneficiaries of their service in the field of education and medical aid. Mother Teresa was no exception to this practice. That is another reason why the missionaries do not dare to enter into Muslim pockets in India in the name of service to the needy.
In Kandhamal, for decades churches have been built on government land, encroached private land and also on reserved forest land. After conversion to Christianity among the Dalits, hundreds of persons have illegally produced certificates claiming tribal status and grabbed jobs in the government, those reserved for tribal people. Swamiji besides protecting their faith and religion by preaching them to be proud of their indigenous faith and be educated in Sanskrit so as to command a respectful status among the majority Hindus, also made them conscious against the series of injustice perpetrated at the behest of the church. There were nine lethal attacks to eliminate him but they never succeeded, but on the August 23, 2008, the church bribed the Azad group of Maoists to join the local Christians to kill him on a specially selected day, which was Krishna Janmasthami, when Swamiji was busy in celebration of the festival in company of his students and other ashram dwellers in Jaleshpata Kanyashram. Had Swamiji not been killed, perhaps there would not have been any occasion for such mass scale violence. The state government had prior knowledge that the Swamiji was likely to be killed. After getting Swamiji killed the government should not have been blatantly partial both in extending relief among the affected people and in applying the criminal law to the incidents that followed. No state machinery can ensure peace by force and without public co-operation. The non-State players in Kandhamal are maneuvering the situation with sinister design with sole aim to destabilise and facilitate Maoist dominance in the area. And later, with the help of tacit support from the Maoists they convert the local tribes into Christianity the same way as it is happening in the Karbianglong and North Cachar Hills districts of Assam.
What happened in Kandhamal after the murder of Swamiji was perhaps the most likely that could have happened and what is the most right thing to do in the circumstances has not been done by the Naveen government in Odisha. As a result there is a conspiracy of silence which might erupt at any time with greater disaster in the region. So, as long as the church does not abandon the idea of getting the poor and the needy converted to Christianity in lieu of the assistance they give in the field of education and medical treatment, the underlying ill-feeling with the majority Hindus can not subside. The apparent apathy of the state government not to implement the provisions of the existing law to stop and prevent illegal conversion is no ground to claim that there is no conversion or to expect that people at large would be silently tolerating the inaction on the part of the law enforcing authorities in this respect. The so-called ‘communal and fundamentalist Hindus’ are not at all an organised lot as it is often portrayed. The uncalled for provocations by the church through their activities only consolidates the majority Hindus in an unorganised form, who speak in one voice and act as one force at times of severe challenges to their collective cultural image and identity. This became evident in recent happenings in Karnataka as well as Gujarat. This is also true in case of Odisha, with 94 per cent of its population being Hindu and the Kandhamal where still 82 per cent of the population, including 70 per cent of tribes and Dalits, is Hindu. The need of the hour is good governance and addressing to the main disputes like alienation of titles over land belonging to the tribes, prevention of blocking the employment opportunity of tribes by cheats among the converts, total stop to illegal conversion to Christianity and above all, ameliorating the living standards of the people by a corruption free and time bound developmental program.
By Ashok Sahu
The writer is a retired IPS officer