By Ashok Sahu
Reports of clashes between ‘converted’ Christians led by missionaries on one hand and tribals on the other in Kandhamal district of Orissa that have been highlighted by media since December 25, 2007, are vastly distorted and motivated. These reports need to be clarified in public interest lest our national image is tarnished before the people and the international community.
The whole series of incidents began with the unprovoked and pre-planned attack on Vedanta Keshari Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati who was visiting his disciples at Darsingbadi village in Kandhmal district on December 24. The 82-year-old Swami has been working tirelessly in the district since 1967 for the welfare of the local population.
More than 75 per cent people in Kandhamal live below the poverty line and are not literate. Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati has opened schools, hostels, hospitals and temples to protect mainly the tribals and the downtrodden from the clutches of missionaries who have access to massive funds from foreign countries. A lot of this money is also provided to so-called non-government organisations whose covert agenda is to convert local tribals to Christianity.
World Vision is one such NGO operating in this district. It is patronised by Mr Radhakanta Nayak, a resident of Darsingbadi village from ‘Pana’ community. He later converted to Christianity. He was an employee of the Orissa Government and was promoted to the IAS before he retired from service. He is now a Member of the Rajya Sabha. The assailants who attacked Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati on December 24 are believed to be his henchmen.
The ‘Kui’ tribals among the Kandhs in the district have been protesting against Mr Nayak’s attempt to get his ‘Pana’ community relisted as a Scheduled Tribe. For some time now, Mr Nayak has been trying to get a notification issued under the provisions of the Constitution to get his Pana community, at present designated a Scheduled Caste, relisted as a Scheduled Tribe along with the Kui on the ground that the former also speak the Kui dialect.
Various reservation facilities to which Scheduled Tribes are entitled are not available to Scheduled Castes if their members convert to Christianity. On hearing about the attack on Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati, the already agitated Kui community reacted with anger and protested throughout the district against those members of the ‘Pana’ community who had converted to Christianity.
Interestingly, most Maoist activists in the district are among the recent converts to Christianity. Security forces are believed to have seized 20 guns from 47 Maoists arrested in connection with the recent burning of villages inhabited by Hindus (Brahmanigaon, Jhinjiriguda, Katingia and Godapur) to counter the attacks by tribals on Christians and Churches. It is evident that the Maoists and the missionaries are hand-in-glove with each other to instigate clashes between the Kui tribals and the Pana community. A similar pattern exists in Karbi-Anglong and North Cachar Hills districts in Asam where insurgents are working in tandem with missionaries.
While in Government service, Mr Radhakanta Nayak and Mr John Nayak, a retired IPS officer — both ‘converted’ Christians — were instruments of the Church to proselytise poor and illiterate members of the ‘Pana’ and tribal communities in Kandhamal district.
In the guise of funding NGOs, thousands of dollars are being pumped into the country for converting tribals to Christianity in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and the North-East. The missionaries and their cohorts take advantage of the poverty and lack of education; thousands of people have been converted to Christianity through these means.
In the North-East, many of them are being trained for separatist movements. In States like Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, many of them are being trained for Maoist insurgency.
Conversions have been more pronounced since 1970, which is evident from the Census reports till 2001. In Kandhamal district, for instance, the Christian population has increased from six per cent in 1971 to 27 per cent in 2001, despite a law enacted by the Orissa Legislature in 1967 to prevent conversion by allurement, coercion, bribery and cheating.
Swami Lakshmanananda has been fighting a lone battle against such conversions and has made the tribal dominated district his home for the last 40 years. Those behind the conversions have been targeting him.
Earlier, there were two deadly attacks on Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati in 1971 and 1995. Since then, the Government has provided his with armed protection. But despite that, armed men attacked him on December 24. Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati, his driver and armed guards were seriously injured in the attack and were hospitalised in Cuttack Medical College Hospital.
Hence, the recent clashes manifest the various ramifications of the socio-economic, political and cultural issues, as well as the deep-rooted conspiracy by missionaries and Maoists to destabilise our society. Let the national media stop distorting facts.
— The writer is a former Inspector General of Police, Orissa.