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Lakshmanananda Saraswati

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Lakshmanananda Saraswati (1926 – 23 August 2008), born Shravan Krishna Navami, also known as Swami Lakshmanananda, was a Hindu monk, a Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader and a re-conversion activist.[1][2][3] He was murdered on 23 August 2008, for which a Maoist leader claimed the responsibility.[4] In 2013, seven Christians and a Maoist leader were convicted by the court to life imprisonment.[3][5]

Early life[edit]

He was born in 1924 into a Hindu family in Gurujanga village in Talcher in Odisha state.[1] He renounced his family life, left his wife and one-year-old son to become a monk, and moved to Rishikesh in the Himalayas for mediation.[2] In 1960s he returned from Himalayas to join Vinoba Bhave and helped him in his Cow protection movement.[2] He was also a leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in Odisha.[6]

Social welfare career[edit]

At 1966 Kumbh mela he met the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) worker Bhupen Bose who convinced him to return to Odisha to undertake tribal welfare activities.[2] In 1968, he established an ashram at Chakapada in Kandhamal district of Odisha.[1] In 1969 he built the first ashram at Chakapad in Kandhamal.[3] In 1989, he built a residential school for girls at Jalespata.[3] At Chakapada, he established several ashrams, built hostels for tribal girls, orphanages, educational institutions, hospitals, and to prevent the conversion of tribal to Christianity preached he prached Hindu Vedas and organised large yajnas, which became a significant part to the growth of saffron brigade in the state and for him becoming an icon for the Sangh Parivar in Odisha.[2]

Anti-conversion mission in Odisha[edit]

Kandhamal district, with its 75% people are below poverty line, saw several fold rise Christian population from 6% in 1971 to 27% in 2001. As per the 2011 Census of India, Hindus grew by 130% in 50 years whereas Christians grew by 478%. Sundargarh, Gajapati, and Kandhamal have the 1st, 2nd and 3rd largest Christian population in Odisha respectively. Kandhamal has 1,200 churches, i.e. one church per 125 Christian, and there are 300 foreign "from South Korea to South Africa" Christian organisations are active in Kandhamal. Converts to Christianity are largely Dalit "Panas". Odisha had passed the "Freedom of Religion Act"' in 1967 to ban the conversions by inducements, which came into effect only in 1989 and the first case under the law was filed by the Orissa police only in 1993 against the 21 [Christian] pastors operating in the tribal dominated Nowrangpur district.[2][3]

The kandhas and the Panas were both tribals before most kandhas adopted hinduism and most panas converted to Christianity in the district.[7] The constitution prevents people to get tribal reservations if they convert to any other religion other than Hinduism. The 2002 "The Presidential Order of 2002" allowed the kui speaking people to avail the Seculded Tribe status. This was resented by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad when the Pana Christians also started to demand the Tribal status.[8][9] Lakshmanananda was one of the leaders of the VHP during the time.[6] Kandhas had been protesting against the possession of land by the converted panas, there were violent riots 1985 onwards between Kandhas and Panas. Kandhas also felt that Panos were acting boldly with the help of Church. Kandhas also resented that Panos were hiding their true Christian identity by also maintaining their scheduled caste Hindu identity only to avail the benefit of reservation.[3][8][9]

This conflict intensified further after Pentecostal Christian evangelists came to Kandhamal. Both Lakshmanananda and Churches offered food, education, and healthcare based welfare, which should have otherwise been provided by the State. Church which were focused on countering Lakshmanananda, started to outcaste the tribal converts to Christianty who became interested in reconversion to Hinduism. Church ostracised them by banning their entry to community events, like "Prabhubhoji" (the holy feast). Lakshmanananda lacked funding power enjoyed by the Christian Churches, but his welfare based Hindusim became an attractive option for the tribals. Church asked tribals to abandon their traditional cultural practices and rituals which were looked down upon by the Christians missionaries, whereas Lakshmanananda's Hinduism imposed no such restrictions except the condition of not consuming beef.[3]

Attacks on Lakshmanananda's life[edit]

The Swami's claim that he had been attacked eight times before 2008[10] was corroborated in January 2008 by a fact-finding commission, chaired by Additional Advocate General of Rajasthan G.S. Gill. The first attack on the Swami occurred on 26 December 1970.[11] Lakshmanananda was also attacked in 1971 and 1995.[2] Since he also conducted massive programmes to bring the tribals back to the Hindu fold, the programmes were usually characterized by inflammatory speeches and provocation.[12]

In 2007 on the eve of Christmas, his car was stoned by a Christian mob in the Christian dominated Brahmanaigaon village in Kandhamal district.[2] According to the South Asia's citizen report on violence, Laxmanananda claimed he was injured but doctor's and eyewitnesses statement contradict this.[13] The RSS and Saraswati accused the Congress Member of Parliament and the chief of the missionary organisation, World Vision, Radhakant Nayak, of complicity in the attack on him. He also claimed that there was a nexus between Maoist terrorists. The swami also said that [Christian missionaries] spent money in India for proselytization, including during the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.[14] An Assam-cadre IPS officer (retired) from Odisha, Ashok Sahu, after visiting the Kandhamal district, alleged that an NGO, World Vision, patronised by Congress Rajya Sabha member Radhakanta Nayak, had a role in the attack on Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati on 24 December.[15]

Assassination of Lakshmanananda[edit]

Murder incidence[edit]

He was assassinated on 23 August 2008[5] along with four disciples at his kanyashram (girls school) at Tumudibandha, about 100 km from Phulbani, the district headquarters of Kandhmal district, on the sacred day of Janmashtami. A group of 30-40 armed men surrounded the ashram. Four of the assailants carried AK-47s and many others had locally made revolvers. Two of the four government-provided security guards had gone home to eat. The assailants tied and gagged the two remaining guards. Within minutes of reaching the crime scene, the district authorities made a statement saying it was suspected Maoists who killed the Swami.[16]

Hundreds of people had gathered en route to pay their last respects to Lakshmanananda. They ended up engaging in civil unrest, rioting, looting and attacked places of worship, mostly churches and Christian properties. The attackers included activists of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Bajrang Dal and other Sangh Parivar organisations, and Bharatiya Janata Party.[17] This left more than 395 churches burnt down or vandalized, 39 Christians killed, 5,600 houses burnt down and ransacked which left more than 54,000 homeless.[18] While other reports suggested a death toll of nearly hundred.[19] His death led to large scale violence against the Christians by Sangh parivar groups which resulted in the death of 39-90 Christians, burning down or vandalization to over 395 churches and 5600 Christian homes.[17][18][19]

Suspects[edit]

In case of the murder of Laxmanananda, the Maoists were part of"a larger conspiracy" and certain Christian leaders had issued open threats to Saraswati few days before his murder.[3]

On October 2008, a senior Maoist leader claimed responsibility for the murder of Laxmanananda.[20][21] The Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda told the private Oriya channels at an undisclosed location that the Maoists decided to eliminate Saraswati as he was 'spreading social unrest' in the tribal-dominated district.[16]

However, some disagree that Maoists or left-wing extremists could be behind the assassination of the monk.[22][23] According to the intelligence authorities, Naxalite insurgents who already had the presence in the state potentially wanted to capitalise on this opportunity to recruit more people in their movement by helping the Christians were the most affected During the December violence of 2007.[2] Maoists were expecting that there will be riots between Khandas and Panos, and affected Christians/Panos would join the Maoist cadre. The timely intervention from the government prevented the 3,000 people from joining the Maoist being recruited by the Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda. In 2014, Panda was arrested after he fell out with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist).[3]

Conviction[edit]

"In October 2013, seven people — all of them Christians — and a Maoist leader, Pulari Rama Rao,were sentenced to life imprisonment for their role in Saraswati’s killing. Two other Maoist leaders — both in jail now — Dunna Keshav Rao alias Azad and Sabyasachi Panda are also accused in the case."[3]

See also[edit]

  • Murder of Swami Lakshmanananda
  • Bharatiya Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram
  • Christianity and violence
  • Goa Inquisition
  • Religious violence in Orissa
  • Swami Shanti Kali Maharaj of Tripura

References[edit]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 'Saraswati was messiah for tribal Hindus in Kandhamal' Zee News, 7 October 2009.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 "Slain vhp man was conversion king". Indianexpress.com. Archived from the original on 2013-01-04. Retrieved 2008-09-18. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 3.9 8 years after Swami Laxmanananda Saraswatis killing Kandhamal is still a ticking time-bomb, First Post, 18 Aug 2016.
  4. "Indian Maoist group: We killed Hindu leader - CNN.com". edition.cnn.com. Retrieved 2020-04-24.
  5. 5.0 5.1 SASWAT PANIGRAHI (23 August 2014). "Swami Lakshmanananda murder: Six years gone, inquiry on, no justice". Niti Central. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 28 February 2015. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  6. 6.0 6.1 Reporter, Staff (2014-08-18). "Janmashtami celebrated amid security in Kandhamal". The Hindu. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 2020-04-23.
  7. "Konds | Encyclopedia.com". www.encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 2020-04-23.
  8. 8.0 8.1 "Quota fuel to communal fire". Hindustan Times. 2008-12-31. Retrieved 2020-04-23.
  9. 9.0 9.1 "Ethnic Violence and Communal Polarisation in Orissa's Kandhamal District". The Daily Star. 2008-01-12. Retrieved 2020-04-23.
  10. "Swami Laxmananand feared for his life: NGO".
  11. Anti-reconversion lobby killed Laxmananand: NGO The Pioneer - 6 September 2008
  12. Majoritarian state : how Hindu nationalism is changing India. Chatterji, Angana P.,, Hansen, Thomas Blom, 1958-, Jaffrelot, Christophe. New York: Oxford University Press. 2019. p. 254. ISBN 978-0-19-008339-7. OCLC 1105199337. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  13. Magazine, Delhi Press (2017-10-01). The Caravan: October 2017. Delhi Press. p. 60. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  14. "RSS wing blames Cong MP for triggering communal tension in Kandhamal". Archived from the original on 2011-06-16. Retrieved 2013-11-01.
  15. Ex IPS Officer Blames Maoists, Churches
  16. 16.0 16.1 "We killed Swami Laxmananda: Maoist leader". www.rediff.com.
  17. 17.0 17.1 "Sangh Parivar's Orissa Project". Archived from the original on 8 October 2008. Retrieved 15 September 2009. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  18. 18.0 18.1 "10 years after Kandhamal riots, both sides say they await justice". The Indian Express. 2018-08-24. Retrieved 2020-04-23.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Staff, Scroll. "In photos: Damaged churches, broken homes are the lingering scars of the 2008 Kandhamal riots". Scroll.in. Retrieved 2020-04-23.
  20. "We killed Swami Laxmananda: Maoist leader". www.rediff.com. Retrieved 2020-04-13.
  21. Reporter, B. S. (2008-10-06). "Maoist leader claims they killed Swami". Business Standard India. Retrieved 2020-04-13.
  22. "Who killed Swami Lakshmanananda?". www.rediff.com.
  23. "Security for Swami was not adequate: SP - Lakshmanananda Saraswati - …". archive.is. 11 May 2012. Archived from the original on 11 May 2012. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)


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