Revolution in South Asia

An Internationalist Info Project

Hindu Violence Rises in Orissa

Posted by n3wday on April 23, 2009


This article was published in A World To Win.

Orissa, India: Hindu fundamentalists foment violence among the people

[20 April 2008. A World to Win News Service.] Over many years a large number of Dalits (“untouchables”) in the eastern Indian state of Orissa converted to Christianity to escape the Hindu caste system in which they are considered subhuman. In the last decade, and especially the last year and a half, life has become hell for them. In December 2007, Hindu supremacist forces lead a riot in which many of the Dalit Christians were killed and their homes and churches were burned by tribal people at least as poor as the Dalits. The Hindu monk Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, a leader of the Vishnu Hindu Parisad (VHP) party, was said to have been behind the attacks. The VHP is part of a broader movement of organisations identified with the word “Hindutva” (“Hindu-ness”), that fights, in parliament and often in the streets and villages, in the name of opposition to communism, Islam and Christianity.

After Saraswati was killed in August of last year, in an attack attributed to guerrillas under the leadership of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), the Hindutva parties launched even more ferocious attacks on the Dalit Christians. In the district of Kandhamal, deep in the forested interior of Orissa, many of them are now living in makeshift camps after their homes were destroyed. Hindus have been forbidden to hire them as day labourers anymore, or even to talk to them, and their children cannot go to school. This level of violence against Christians has not been seen since India’s independence, and it has been encouraged and organised.

A local leader of the allegedly more mainstream Hindu party, the BJP, recently bragged to a reporter: “A maximum number of Christians were killed, yes, it is a matter of fact, but why? The Hindu sense of dignity has come to the surface in a spontaneous manner and they want to protect that sense of dignity.” (BBC, 13 April 2009) Note that the affront to “Hindu dignity” justifying the massacre is turning one’s back on the Hindu religion. The BJP is one of India’s two main parties. The other, the rival and currently ruling Congress party, has done little to oppose these attacks and the reactionary ideology they are driven by, and little or nothing to help the Kandhamal refugees living in tents and shacks.

The following article, titled  “Beat Back the Fascist Onslaught in Orissa“, by Ujjwala, has been slightly edited.  It originally appeared in the January-March 2009 issue of the Indian publication People’ s Truth.

The recent and ongoing violence on Dalit Christians in Kandhamal once again highlights the need to fight the fascist Hindutva forces and thoroughly expose the governments, both central and state. The state and central governments’  refusal to restrain fanatic Hindu militias evidences their linkage with the Hindutva BJP and the soft Hindutva Congress party, and the capitulation of a section of civil society to Hindu majoritarianism. The current violence started immediately after the killing of the notorious goon in saffron, Swami Laxmanananda, a VHP leader who was working in this area for more than 30 years solely for the consolidation of the Hindutva forces. He along with his four associates was shot dead by the people’s guerrillas on 23 August 2008.

The people’s guerrillas had left a note on the spot explaining the reasons behind the elimination of Laxmanananda Saraswati and stated, “We have decided to punish anti-people, fanatical leaders like Saraswati because of endless persecution of religious minorities in the country. There will be more such punishments if violence is continued against religious minorities in the country.” In spite of this clear statement, Hindutva forces used this incident to carry out massacres on Dalit Christians, holding them responsible. Whenever the anti-displacement [a movement to resist land grabs by India’s biggest corporations] leaders and activists are branded as Maoists, the Sangh Parivar people [a grouping of Hindu nationalist organisations, including the RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal and BJP parties] are the first ones to join the chorus. They also demand firm action against such leaders and activists. But in this case even after the Maoists took the responsibility, these cowardly gangsters were afraid to confront the Naxalites [Maoists], and preferred to hit soft targets, like Christian priests, women and children.

The violence started immediately after that incident. Attacks on innocent Adivasis [tribals], Dalits, women and children belonging to minority community were planned, led and carried out by the Sangh Parivar without any limit. They began by raping nuns, lynching innocent women and men, disabled persons and others. Hooligans under the direct command of the BJP and RSS leaders went on to burn Christian houses, shops, schools, orphanages and churches [many of them for a second time, after the December 2007 attacks] and some NGO offices. They lynched a girl student of a Kany ashram and a priest at Baragarh, and killed three persons in Kandhamal in the presence of police forces. As of today more than 20 persons have been killed for no fault of their own. Thousands and thousands of people who are no way connected to the killing of Saraswati, including pregnant women, toddlers and old ones, were forced to leave their homes and are languishing inside the forests amidst rains without food, water or clothes.

There is enough ground to believe that there was a deliberate move by a section within the government that crippled the administration and police, leading to the complete breakdown of governance systems. The violence is not confined to Kandhamal district alone and started spreading to other districts. In several districts of Orissa there is tension and fear of further violence. Already the situation in Koraput district, particularly in Jeypore, is very serious. Many people have fled from their homes and villages and have been in the jungles for many days without any food, medical care and shelter.

Profile of Kandhamal District

Kandhamal was constituted as a district recently, in 1994. It has 2,515 villages spread over 7,649 square kilometres. The terrain is inaccessible, full of hills and narrow lanes crisscrossing the villages. There isn’t a single industrial unit here. There are no railway lines, and so no trains come here. Close to eight hundred thousand people live in this doleful land. In terms of castes and tribes, the Kandha tribe constitute more than half the population of Kandhamal. The Panas, who are the Dalits, form the next big chunk. It is on this Kandha tribe the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is concentrating for bringing them into the Hindutva fold. The Panas are where the Christian community gets its numbers. The percentage of Christians in Kandhamal – 25 percent – is astonishingly high compared to the 2.44 percent for the whole of Orissa. In percentage terms, Orissa has the third largest concentration of Hindus in India (nearly 95 percent in the 2001 census). Muslims are barely two percent. Kandhamal remains socio-economically backward, a large percentage of its population living in poverty. Approximately 90 percent of Dalits are landless. A majority of Christians are landless or marginal landholders.

Hindutva ideologues say Dalits have acquired economic benefits, augmented by Christianisation. This is not borne out in reality. The demographic profile of Kandhamal suggests that in the last 40 years, the population of outsiders having migrated into the district has increased by 140 percent. They are all non-tribals and non-Dalits, and mostly belong to the upper castes – Brahmins, Karans, Telis, Sundhis, Kumudis, etc. They do trade and business with tribals and Dalits. The stories of oppression involving them can be narrated separately. Most of the fertile lands in the district are under the control of these trading communities. They are the people who provide a good base to all the Sangh Parivar outfits that operate in the district and play an active role in every outbreak of communal violence.

The RSS activist Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, who was heading the VHP movement in Kandhamal, was not a sadhu [holy man] as is being projected. He was a member of the VHP’s Kendriya Margadarshak Mandal, a powerful decision-making panel. He operated largely from two ashrams 150 kilometres from each other. To his followers, Saraswati was the incarnation of Parashurama, the first warrior saint in Hindu mythology. Saraswati saw himself as the saint who would vanquish the Christians. Saraswati was a member of what are now called the Most Backward Castes [in India’s official classification whose claimed purpose is to overcome the effects of the supposedly illegal caste system]. He had to quit his job because of some irregularities and a police case for murder and criminal conspiracy was pending against him. He managed to escape many previous attempts on his life.

The rise of Hindutva forces in Orissa

What has happened in Kandhamal is not an isolated event. It’s an outcome of a sustained effort of the Sangh Parivar to spread the poison of communal hatred in Orissa. A series of anti-Christian crusades, such as the gruesome murder of Graham Staines and his two sons in 1999 [burned alive in that missionary’s car], marked the onset of aggressive Hindutva in Orissa.

The Sangh’s history in post-colonial Orissa is long and violent. Virulent Hindutva campaigns against minority groups reverberated in Rourkela in 1964, Cuttack in 1968 and 1992, Bhadrak in 1986 and 1991, Soro in 1991. The Hindutva forces had witnessed a phenomenal rise after the Bharatiya Janata Party’s coalition government with the Biju Janata Dal came to power in 2000.

However, we can’t put the entire blame on the BJP alone for the consolidation of communal forces. The role of all mainstream political parties is equally condemnable. The local leaders of the main opposition [in Orissa] Congress party are mostly with the Sangh Parivar, which is the reason why violence against minorities could not be prevented even in pockets where the Congress party has good influence. The local leaders of the Congress always extended good help to Swami Laxmanananda whenever the Swami organized yajnas or other communal rituals. If one recalls the kind of role that the Congress played during the Gujarat riots [a  huge Hindutva massacre of Moslems in 2002], and in the days following [when the Congress-led central government did nothing to help the refugees], one would find a similar role played by the Congress in Orissa in the Kandhamal situation.

At present the VHP has claimed 125,000 primary [the current nation-wide parliamentary elections] workers in Orissa. The RSS is said to operate 6,000 shakhas with a 150,000 plus cadre. The Bajrang Dal [youth wing of the VHP] has 50,000 members working in 200 akharas. BJP workers number above 450,000. The BJP Mohila Morcha, Durga Vahini (7,000 outfits in 117 sites) and Rashtriya Sevika Samiti (80 centres) are three major Sangh women’s organisations. BJP Yuva Morcha, Youth Wing, Adivasi Morcha and Mohila Morcha have a prominent base. Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh manages 171 trade unions with a membership of 1,82,000. The 30,000-strong Bharatiya Kisan Sangh functions in 100 blocks. The Sangh also operates various trusts and branches of national and international institutions to aid fundraising, including Friends of Tribal Society, Samarpan Charitable Trust, Sookruti, Yasodha Sadan, and Odisha International Centre. Sectarian development and education are carried out by Ekal Vidyalayas, Vanavasi Kalyan Ashrams/Parishads (VKAs), Vivekananda Kendras, Shiksha Vikas Samitis and Sewa Bharatis – cementing the brickwork for hate and civil polarisation.

The real reasons behind the “communal violence”

The present violence in Orissa is not exclusively religious. It must be seen as part of the evolving social, economic and political conditions in the country in general and in Orissa in particular. Orissa has a share of 6.6 percent of total value of the mineral resources but constitutes only 1.6 percent of the national industrial production. These huge mineral resources obviously make Orissa a lucrative destination for the world’s biggest multinational companies and private capital. The Orissa government has ruthlessly pursued land acquisition for mining companies and for exploitation of other natural resources through brute force, as witnessed in Kashipur, Kalinganagar, Jagatsinghpur and Hirakud, to honour the commitments that it has made to various corporate houses both native and foreign.

On the other hand we can also see the rising people’s resistance to these globalization policies and economic plunder by imperialists. The ruling classes, aware of this reality, are finding ways to contain the mass opposition. The Sangh Parivar is working precisely for the imperialists through its divisive politics of creating communal tensions and pitting the most marginalised groups against each other, in this case the Adivasis against Dalits, the majority of whom happen to be Christians. The Sangh Parivar makes false claims that Christian missionaries and Muslim traders are responsible for the illegal acquisition and grabbing of lands of Adivasis. The notion that Dalit Christians are responsible for the landlessness of the Adivasis is untrue. The fact is that there is a real decline in the actual number of available employment and income-generating opportunities in the area, despite the ruthless mining and industrialization in some areas.

The Sangh Parivar is also trying to emulate the example of Gujarat in Orissa by Hinduizing the huge tribal population. Orissa has about 22 percent tribal population and in some districts like Koraput, Keonjhar, Phulbani, Sundargarh and Kandhamal, they are a majority. The tribal people are also an important base for the Maoists who are spearheading the fight against the mining mafia.

The present violence in Orissa must be seen as part of overall strategy of ruling classes to divide the people and contain the rising people’s movements. The acute worldwide economic crisis will have serious repercussions in India, particularly in an already impoverished state like Orissa. The resulting impoverishment will lead to more virulent revolts of the people against their oppressors. The Sangh Parivar’s job is to divert this into internecine battles in order to save the rulers and the moneybags. It’s not surprising that their coffers are filled with funds from these sources they work for. The Sangh Parivar, with the help of government, is already making plans to set up reactionary militias in Orissa with tribal people along the lines of the “Salwa Judum” [in Chhattisgarh, where the authorities force tribal people to live in repressive camps and join militias to fight other rural insurgents] for suppressing the people’s movements. No doubt, as in Chhattisgarh, they will be given a fitting reply by the masses led by the Maoists.

One Response to “Hindu Violence Rises in Orissa”

  1. RL Francis said

    Kandhamal: the Real Challenges

    By RL Francis
    The vice chairman of National Commission for Minorities (NCM) Dr HT Sangliana giving a clean chit to Orissa government on Kandhamal violence by praising the steps taken by the state government for bringing normalcy in Phulbani district has given a blow to the Christian organisations allegations against the state government. These organisations had alleged that several thousands of the victims are yet to be rehabilitated in the effected areas of Kandhamal.
    After making a visit to the violence hit areas, Sangliana said that the victims have returned home and those who have not returned to Kandhamal are actually working in the neighbouring states. This statement of NCM vice chairman discounts all the allegations of the Church against the Naveen Patnaik government of not taking care of Kandhamal victims.
    NCM vice-chairman’s visit to Kandhamal came in the wake of more than 50 NGOs related to Church organised a public hearing titled “National Tribunal on Kandhmal” from 22 to 24 th August 2010 at New Delhi.The sponsors of this event included Catholic Archbishop of Cuttack Bhuvneshwar Rev. Cheenath, John Dayal of All Indian Christian Council & All India Cathoic union and Sahmat, a Comminist Party of India front organization headed by Mala Hashmi. In this public hearing, film producer Mahesh Bhatt, member of National Advisory Council Harsh Mandar, Syed Hamid, Ruth Manorama,Milan Kothari,Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat and few other leading personalities have participated. Retired Chief Justice of High Court A.P Shah chaired the Tribunal hearing. On the other hand, away from the glare of media some non-christian and tribals were present at Jantar Mantar to express their grief. However, it will be a distant hope that their voices will reach to the masses as that of ‘National Tribunal on Kandhmal’.
    Church has always alleged to indulge in conversion of the poor scheduled castes and tribals. Some Hindu fanatics had burnt alive foreign missionary Graham Stains and his two sons in Mayurbhanj district of Orissa for indulging in the conversion. After a decade, there were riots in Kandhmal.
    After the killing of Swami Laxmananand on 23 August, 2008, the rift between local Christians and non-christians was getting wider. In these riots more than 40 people had been killed and thousands of homes had been torched and hundreds of places of worships had been burnt. Thousands of people had to take shelter in relief camps and many of these people are still living in those camps due to fear. As always happens politics started after Kandhmal riots and this is still continued. After killing of Swami Laxmananda and flare up of communal riots, attempts should have been made to restore peace and normalcy in the violence hit area. That was never started. On the contrary, attempts have been made to internationalise the issue by the Church organisations.
    Western world became serious Kandhmal when Pope Benedict-XIV accused Indian government for its failure to protect the Christians. Before this statement, Pope had called Indian ambassador in Vatican about attempt of implementing the possible anti-conversion laws in some of the states in India. Italian government also expressed displeasure about Kandhmal riots. US based USCIRF demanded to probe the matter independently. However, Indian government had not grant permission till date.
    It is ill fate of Indian Christians that missionaries try to take mileage on incidents of attacks on Muslims. They do not participate in talks and continue their activities due to the support of European countries. Even Mahatma Gandhi had criticised conversion and many nationalists had supported him as main aim of conversion was to produce British supported people. Even today, Churches are thriving on foreign donations. They are accountable to US and European organisations.
    The impact and penetration of Church in these European countries can be gauged from the fact that last year an European Union delegation had visited Kandhmal to know the situation. The union when came to India received unprecedented welcome. On the other hand, central government had constituted a delegation led by Sharad Pawar but it did not receive a welcome.
    Even after independence, missionaries have not become self-dependent. Church officials are accountable to catholic pope. Bishop is the main link between pope and Vatican. Bishops are appointerd by ther Pope. In fact, Protestants are dependent on European Union for grants. This is why for every problem they look towards Europe. They are skeptical about Indian laws and legal system. This attitude has alienated them from the national mainstream. However, there are many facilities in India which they avail here is not even available in European countries, for example special rights to run school and getting government grants etc.
    In the current scenario, the larger question is what should be the approach of Church and Christians? They rely more on the unethical and illegal pressure imposed by European countries on India to get their problems heard. An Indian ambassador who happens to be my friend told me an experience about a conference organised by Indian Christians settled in America and almost all of the speakers presented scary picture about India to convey that the country is not a worth-living place for Christians at all. Then, the ambassador told them there that they should not play such a dirty game thousands of kilometres away from their home. He told that Indian Christians were completely safe in India and nobody suspects them on their patriotism. Governments handing over the sensitive official portfolios to Christian officials. This incident told by my friend kept haunting my mind for a long time.
    What hurts that Church leadership did not try to go to the roots of Kandhmal riots. A commission constituted by government had pointed that conversion, fake caste-certificates and land controversies were the chief reasons behind the riots. Commission was of the view that after conversion of dalits and tribals, the rift has widened so much so that situation is difficult to understand sitting from Delhi. Commission suggested that government should work fast to free lands of Adivasis and should address on the problem of fake caste-certificates. There is a need to alert on the conversion. Conversion is not an issue in Kandhmal only rather it is a national issue. Though, report took holistic view of the problem but Church rejected this point of view of commission.
    Church needs a target to continue the work and it has got this in RSS which has been very much vocal on the issue of conversion. On many places it has directly confronted conversion. This clash is sharper in Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh. Church has used its influence to send the message at international level. The fresh issue is from Karnataka where a former Christian judge Mr. Saldhana has alleged that in 500 days there has been 1000 attacks on Christians and has demanded to sack democratically elected government of Karnataka. However, his report does not match to a Christian organization report which says that there are only 72 incidents of attack. Attacks on anybody are condemnable and should be stopped immediately. However, meesage of love being given by church on Sunday is fast replaced by tirade of hate. Church is trying to alienate their followers from the mainstream.
    We should move ahead after learning from the incidents of Kandhmal. However, unfortunately this is not happening. Church is giving so much arguments justifying its actions but people are not convinced. There are pockets in Uttar Pradesh which have become silent volcanoes. As per reports from Tarai region, foreign missionaries with the help of local church officials have stepped up their activities. What surprises there are many regions, where there is no Christian population, lands are being bought. In western UP, ABC church is converting poorer Hindus in large number. But in government records they are still Hindus. In Gurgaon at Dhankot a saminary is running in hundreds acres. This is being run by Protestants and name of saminary is Dayadham. Here poor people from north India are brought and they attend 3-year-course of priesthood. This year I had an opportunity to attend at convocation ceremony. Students were told to work for the propagation of Christianity. They have been instructed to spread “Message of God”. Poor people for their livelihood accept this job of converting people. These groups of boys and girls are called ‘Salvation Army’. They get monthly grant of 100 dollars. They are not aware of the fact that they have become puppets in the hands of foreign missionaries. This has resulted in increased tensions in certain areas. Last year Punjab had boiled on a controvertial poster of Jesus Christ.
    In Kandhmal, NCM vice chairman has already made a statement that the displaced people are rehabilitated. As per reports from Kandhmal, the rift between Christians and Non-Christians are widening in the areas situated near Gunsar forest. In stead of returning to their vilalges people living in relief camps have started settling there. Orissa government and church are helping them in this process. In a way communal division is getting wider. This is a new kind of polarisation.This can be stopped only through peace process to be carried by both the communities.
    Christians should come out of their ostrich like mentality and should gear to face the real life challenges. Christians should connect to the democratic process of the country and seek long term solutions in Indian context. They should be able to distinguish between religion and social responsibilities. Today, church has messed up religion and social service. It is alleged that year the Church carries out social services and relief work only where there exists probability of covnersion. It is clear from the flods in Punjab Haryana and Western UP where the church did not carry out any r flood relief a operations despite wide spread calamity. The ordinary Christians are also baffled due to political mix up by the Church. Church should ponder that why people are skeptical even after so much of social service in the hinterland?

    President – Poor Christian Liberation Movement
    IIIA/145, Rachna, Vaishali – 201010 (NCR) India
    Ph. 9810108046

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: