With Modi triumphant,
an emboldened Sangh is set upon doing a repeat of Gujarat, reports S.
just burning tyres. How many Isai houses and churches have you burnt?
Without kranti (revolution) there can be no shanti (peace). Narendra Modi
has done kranti in Gujarat, the reason why shanti’s there.”
82-year-old Sangh leader inciting his followers on his cell phone on December
25, from a medical centre in Daringbadi, Kandhamal district, in the presence
of police and journalists
FIRE, AGNI, is the
most favoured element in Hindutva’s next laboratory Orissa. It is
the acrid smell from the burnt-down churches, vehicles and homes that
remains with you after a three-day visit to Kandhamal district even a
week after the worst instance of anti- Christian violence in independent
On December 23, 2007,
the day Narendra Modi had led the BJP to a massive victory in Gujarat,
Hindutva activists in a faraway village in Kandhamal district pulled out
pastor Junas Digal from a bus. He was beaten, tonsured and paraded naked.
On December 24, around 11am, a mob of the RSS, Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu
Parishad, Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram and allied Sangh Parivar groups descended
on Bamunigan village and began to burn the Christmas pandal and the crib
that had been erected on the road with the due permission of the police
and the sub-collector.
The mob, about 3,000-strong,
was armed with tridents, axes, crude bombs and kerosene. Some even had
guns. They opened fire. Two young boys Sillu (12) and Avinash Nayak (15)
sustained bullet injuries. They did not aim too well — they were
not Maoists or Naxals (funded by Christian NGOs) as the police would have
us believe — and the boys survived. Eyewitnesses say the mob was
led by local RSS leaders Bikram Raut, Dhanu Pradhani and others. Within
minutes, the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes in Bamunigan was attacked.
The palm oil in the lamps was used to burn the Christmas decorations,
furniture, musical instruments and the altar. The presbytery was looted
and then set on fire. Police personnel, just three unarmed constables,
watched. The rioters looted and burnt as the Dalit Christians, mostly
of the Pana community, fled the village into the nearby forests and hills.
They remained huddled there for three days as night temperatures plummeted
to 4 degrees.
Within the next 72
hours, across the Adivasidominated Kandhamal district, five parish churches,
48 village churches, five convents, seven hostels and several church-run
institutions bore the brunt of a Hindutva onslaught. The Kandhas, neo-converts
to the Hindutva cause, zealously felled trees all along the National Highway
217 that snakes its way through the hilly Kandhamal. The entire district
was cut off. More than 500 homes, of mostly Pana Christians, were targeted.
Unofficially the toll is 11 deaths (including four in police firing).
Hundreds went missing, perhaps hiding in forests.
Like the violence
in Gujarat 2002, it appears that the attack was executed with meticulous
planning. The simultaneity of the strikes across the hilly inaccessible
terrain indicates this. The Christmas-week campaign was planned to coincide
with Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s bash in capital Bhubaneswar
to celebrate the 10th anniversary of his party Biju Janata Dal’s
existence. By December 24, a majority of the state’s police force
had been moved out of the districts — including Kandhamal to oversee
the farmers’ rally and the Mahasamavesh held on December 26-27.
Added to this, the Kui Samaj, an organisation of Adivasi Kandhas, had
called for a Kandhamal bandh on December 25 and 26. The Kui-speaking Kandha
Adivasis have been at loggerheads for over a decade with the Pana Dalit
Christians over the latter’s demand for Scheduled Tribe status.
This combination of factors created a powder keg to which octogenarian
RSS leader Swami Lakhanananda Saraswati lit the fuse. He announced a yagna
on Christmas day in Bamunigan right where the Pana-based Ambedkar Banika
Sangh had erected the Christmas pandal. He had recently concluded a Ram
Dhanu rath yatra to mobilise opinion on the Ram Setu issue among the Adivasis.
On December 25, while moving
in his vehicle towards Bamunigan, Lakhanananda’s supporters and
security staff got into a scuffle, objecting to Christmas songs being
played from a church at the Christian-dominated Dasingbadi village. Outnumbered
by the Christians, the self-styled godman’s supporters beat a retreat.
Reaching the Daringbadi block, Lakhanananda got himself admitted to a
medical centre and claimed to have been grievously hurt by a Christian
mob. The news that the “Swami had been brutally attacked”
was flashed by ETV’s Oriya news channel. There were no visuals to
support Lakhanananda’s claims of injury. Soon, the Sangh outfits
across the district attacked churches and Christian homes. Having called
a bandh, more than 3,000 Kandha adivasis had gathered for a rally at Tikabali
near the police station. They torched the poorly staffed Tikabali police
station and went on a rampage.
Kandhamal, the administration has not bothered cleaning up the mess of
arson. Even the tattered pandal in Bamunigan — where it all began
— clung to the poles when TEHELKA visited on January 5. All that
the administration has done is hastily repair and paint the two police
stations that had been attacked. A few inspectors have been shunted, the
SP and collector been changed. Poorly managed relief camps are being run
where officials are more keen to mete out relief to “Hindu victims”
Hindus who feared reprisals in Christian-dominated villages and moved
to relief camps as a precaution. Again, an “action” —
the fictitious assault on Lakhanananda — was used to justify the
“reaction”. “Whatever happened was because of the spontaneous
reaction of the public against the attack on Lakhanananda Saraswati,”
says Orissa VHP general secretary GP Rath.
There were stray incidents
of violence on Hindu streets, such as in Bamunigan, with burnt homes bearing
testimony. The Sangh blames Christians and Naxalites. The strategy of
ensuring a significant presence of Hindus in relief camps has also been
orchestrated by the Sangh groups. In the “Hindu relief camp”
in Karadavadi village in the neighbouring Ganjam district, 588 Hindus
from Daringbadi, Kattingia and Tierigaon villages gather around a television
as police refuse us permission to enter. However, there’s unrestricted
entry into relief camps for Christians in Balliguda or Barakhama even
as curfew is on.
Mount Carmel Convent, a desecrated statue of Mary welcomes us. Sister
Sujata, a frail woman from Chhattisgarh posted here in June 2007, would
rather not have us photograph Mary thus. Sister Christa of the convent
told TEHELKA, “They showed no mercy. Shouting Jai Shri Ram and Jai
Bajrang Bali, they raised nasty anti-Christians slogans.” She had
not expected that the public institutions run by the convent such as the
hospital, the vocational training centres and the computer centre would
be attacked. A gas cylinder was used to set the ambulance on fire. A Jersey
cow in the convent’s pen was charred to death. Perhaps for the Sangh
workers the cow did not count as sacred because it was not a swadeshi
one. The sisters recall disbelievingly that several local non-Christians,
who had been beneficiaries at Mount Carmel’s vocational courses,
had been part of the 1,000-strong mob that attacked them.
2.4 percent of Orissa’s population, less than the all-India population
of 2.6 percent. Of Kandhamal’s 6.48 lakh population, 52 percent
are Adivasis and 16 percent Christians. Angana Chatterji, associate professor
of social and cultural anthropology at the California Institute of Integral
Studies, has tracked the communal upsurge in Orissa and says the RSS has
over a few decades worked towards making Orissa a Hindutva laboratory.
The RSS’s Vidya Bharati Akhil Bharatiya Shiksha Sansthan, national
network, directs 391 Saraswati Shishu Mandir schools with 1,11,000 students
in the state. In Adivasi areas, the Sangh administers 730 Ekal Vidyalayas,
Vanvasi Kalyan Parishads, Vivekananda Kendras, Sewa Bharatis and other
groups that seek to Hinduise and Sanskritise the Adivasis. This has been
the real conversion agenda here. The RSS operates 6,000 shakhas in Orissa
with more than 1.5 lakh cadre.
Some of the precedents
of violence against Christians are well known — the burning alive
of Australian leprosy mission worker Graham Stuart Staines and his sons
Philip and Timothy in January 1999 and the murder of Mayurbhanj Catholic
priest Arul Das the same year. On March 16, 2002 around 500 trident-wielding
activists of the VHP, Bajrang Dal and Durga Vahini, sporting saffron headbands,
stormed and ransacked the Orissa Assembly.
The RSS has been preparing
the ground for a major strike for several years. The Sangh outfits have
successfully divided the Adivasis and the Dalits with a sizeable Christian
proportion. Besides, Lakhanananda has been backing the KuiSamaj’s
demand for refusal of ST status to Pana Christians — Dalits who
have lost the right to reservation owing to their conversion. A Presidential
Order of 2002 identified “Kuis” as ST. Whether the state government
would interpret “Kuis” as Kui speakers and thus include Panas
was not clear. In September 2007, the Kui Samaj had warned that the possibility
of granting ST certificates to Panas could lead to communal tensions.
The resignation of Padmanav Behera, a prominent Pana Christian and minister
of steel and mines in the Patnaik government, was one of the key Kui Samaj
IN THEWAVE of violence
that was unleashed over the Christmas week, Behera was targeted. On December
26, a mob of 1,500 people comprising Kui Samaj Kandhas and Sangh goons
burnt his home in Phiringa and then the police station 150 metres from
the minister’s home. Behind a layer of soot, the graffiti on the
wall of Behera’s home is ironic: “I have taken a promise to
save the Hindus. If the Hindu prospers, the nation prospers. To save Hindu
religion is my first and foremost duty.” On December 28, Patnaik
got Behera to resign yielding to the Kui Samaj’s demands.
The Kui Samaj and
RSS outfits seem to have naturally overlapping agendas. In Daringbadi
block, the office of the Christian NGOWorld Vision was attacked. Their
vehicles, computers, stationery, furniture were burnt in a bonfire. The
Hindu Jagaran Shamukhya (HJS) alleges that Radhakant Nayak, a former civil
servant and currently Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha, backs World Vision
which is perceived to be a “proselytising NGO”. They also
see him as backing the demand for ST status by Pana Christians. Nayak
happens to be the author of several books on Adivasi and Dalit issues
and is the founder of the National Institute of Social Work & Social
Sciences (NISSWAS) in Bhubaneswar. The NISSWAS School of Social Work in
Phulbani was targeted both by the Hindutva brigade and Kui Samaj activists.
HJS leader Basudev Barik subsequently addressed the media demanding the
arrest of Nayak for fomenting “communal violence”. One of
the Samaj’s demands, as part of the bandh call, was the resignation
of Nayak, who has been away in Delhi all along.
The Hindutva strategy
in Kandhamal to polarise the Pana Dalits and the Kandha Adivasis has begun
to pay dividends. Since the formation of Vanvasi Kalyan Ashrams in 1987,
the Sangh has sought to co-opt Adivasis. As RSS spokesperson Ram Madhav
sees it, “Vanvasis (forest dwellers) are very much part of our wide
The BJD-BJP government
seems to have little issue with the manner in which Sangh outfits have
vitiated the public sphere in Orissa. In fact, the state has actively
colluded with the Sangh Parivar. As reported in the local media, the state
administration supplies Dara Singh — Staines’ convicted murderer
— with special diet on festival days. Having appointed a judicial
commission headed by retired judge Basudev Panigrahi, Patnaik claims normality
has been restored. This is, after all, a government that condoned a Sangh
attack on the Assembly. The Christians in Kandhamal have been given an
eviction notice and the government has done little to reassure them or
restore their faith. Many of them fear that violence will not be limited
to burning and looting the next time.
A charred ambulance
at the Balliguda convent, which bears an uncanny resemblance to the jeep
in which Staines was burnt, carries this message: “Go in peace,
the journey on which you go is under the eye of the Lord.” Jude
18: 6. The message is lost in Orissa.
A lower caste
swami and an Adivasi leader directed the carefully built up anger against
TWO PROTAGONISTS who orchestrated and provided the manpower for
the communal violence that was unleashed in Kandhamal district —
the RSS-backed leader Swami Lakhanananda Saraswati and the general secretary
of the Kui Samaj, Lambodar Kanhar. In 1965, when the RSS unveiled its
Goraksha Andolan as a national campaign, they deployed a man called Lakhan
to oversee the implementation of the Orissa Prevention of Cow Slaughter
Act, 1960. Orissa had also passed the Freedom of Religion Act (OFRA) in
1967, prohibiting “conversion by the use of force or inducement
or by fraudulent means.”
Born into the dhobi
caste, Lakhan transformed into Swami Lakhanananda Saraswati after establishing
the Chakapada ashram in 1969. Guided initially by swayamsevak Raghunath
Sethi, he believed pastors were trying to convert the Phulbhani- Kandhamal
tract into a “Christ Sthan”.
The RSS mouthpiece
Organiser reported on April 23, 2006 that Lakhanananda through his “four-decade-long
sadhana at Chakapad has successfully awakened the spirit of Hindutva among
the Vanvasis and drawn them away from the clutches of missionaries.“
In April 2006, the centenary celebrations of the second RSS sarsanghachalak
MS Golwalkar had been kicked off in Chakapad by Lakhanananda. Thousands
of Kandha members of the Kui Samaj, led by their leader Lambodar Kanhar,
had attended the meeting. Though Kui Samaj does not directly associate
itself with the Sangh outfits, its Kandha members have often been mobilised
by the RSS and its affiliates.
Kanhar, 43, is a lawyer
by profession. He claims he is keen to protect the Kandhas from both Christianity
and the Sangh outfits, but says, “How can we get along with Christians?
It’s like cat and mouse. We don’t like the ways of even those
who are Christians among the Kandhas. We keep them apart from places of
Chief Minister Patnaik acceding
to most of the Kui Samaj’s demands has given him more leverage.
He told TEHELKA he is likely to contest the 2009 elections and is not
averse to the tacit support of the RSS and the BJP.
inputs from Bibhuti Pati