Kandhmal-indictment of India’s reservation politics

Posted on August 31, 2008. Filed under: Christians, Communist, Hindu, India, Politics, religion, terrorism |

Swami Laxmanananda was actively involved in a contest to preserve indigenous tribal traditions from aggressive Christian evangelists in the state’s tribal belt since 1966. He was killed in his crowded ashram at Jalespata, Kandhmal district, while performing Janmastami prayers. The murder followed a threat letter warning he would suffer for preventing Hindus from converting to Christianity. As the Swami had been previously attacked on 25 December 2007 [he escaped four attempts on his life before falling to the last attack] for the same reason, he personally lodged a complaint with the police and enclosed the threatening letter along with the FIR. He sought police protection, but on Saturday, around 9.35 pm as the ashram was celebrating Janmashtami, when around dinner time, a group of 30-40 armed assailants surrounded the place.  Eyewitnesses reported that about four of the assailants carried AK-47s and many others had country made revolvers. Two of the four home guards stationed for security had gone to eat and only two of them were guarding the premises. The assailants tied down the two guards, and gagged them. They then searched out the Swamiji within the premises, lobbed a hand-grenade at the gathering of devotees, and fired indiscriminately with sophisticated weapons, killing Swami Laxmanananda and four ashram inmates, including Mata Bhaktimayee, on the spot. The recovered bullets show they were from an AK-47, the police said. The assailants then warned the guards not to raise an alarm and fled the scene. Within minutes of the reaching the crime scene, the district authorities declared that Maoists had carried out assassination of the Swami.

Orissa does have a “Maoist” problem. Recently, a boat-load of security forces combing the area for Naxalites [a local name for Maoist armed insurrectionists in India, originating from the name of a small town in Northern Bengal, where the first symbolic act of Maoist “agrarian violence” took place] were blown up. However assigning responsibility to the Maoists could be a typical tactical administrative ploy as in December 2007, the area suffered some of the bloodiest violence Orissa has even seen after the Swami was attacked by Christians. Although Indian media tried its best not to highlight violence on Hindu villagers in the ongoing conflict where both sides obviously targeted each other, and Christians had no less responsibility than the Hindus for atrocities, reports of Christian violence did leak out from time to time. The Christian inspired violence could be partially sought to be justified as reactions and defensive action against expressions of anger by Hindus retaliating indiscriminately for the violent attack on a man who has become their iconic representative. However even now the state has not been able to come out with a clear and credible report on how much the involvement of Christian militant action was in defense, on only the Hindus who had attacked them and not on innocent Hindu villagers, and how much of this action had been pre-planned to utilize the expected violent reaction by the Hindus.

Elections are due soon in the state and the administration has proved unwilling, or unable to curb the Maoist insurgency. The government could be hoping to get the Hindu majority involved in the hunting down and liquidation of the Maoists on a social scale and therefore the most effective one [as proved in Punjab]. There are severe problems with the Maoist theory.  Typically the central committee for the relevant Maoist group authorises the killings and the outfit issues statements owning up to the murders they commit – as they pick targets who they believe would in general be unpopular with the “repressed class” whose support they wish to obtain. Strangely the Maoists are keeping mum, and no statements have been forthcoming [although after this point is raised in the media, some statement may drop out of thin air]. The five attackers who the locals caught and handed over to the police are not Maoists and they are locals from the region.

Orissa police arrested one Pradesh Kumar Das, an employee of the Christian organisation, World Vision, from Khadagpur, while trying to leave Kandhmal at Buguda. Two other converts, Vikram Digal and William Digal were arrested from the house of Lal Digal, a local Christian, from Nuasahi at Gunjibadi, Nuagaan. They apparently admitted having joined a group of 28 other assailants.

The Maoists spared the policemen on duty when they usually execute any representative of the security forces present in their attacks.  The Maoists are usually quite disciplined and they try to avoid firing at women and children or lob grenades at them. An AK-47 is quite a costly weapon, and are more numerous among well-funded terrorist groups with possible access to hostile foreign governmental support such as the Islamic Jihadi terrorists. In uncanny parallels with Islamic terrorists, the assailants were wearing masks and hoods, whereas Marxists usually make such attacks high profile with faces kept uncovered. The indiscriminate firing and throwing grenades on children in an orphanage over and above killing the target, is one of the strongest possible indications that the order to assassinate could not have come from any  “central committee” and even if carried out by or with the help of Maoists were initiated from sources outside the Maoist movement.

Who had a reason to be angry with the Swami, or had sufficient reasons to benefit from his removal?  The Swami’s activities in the jungle were essentially based around the welfare of the tribals and the only way this could be problematic for the Maoists is if it prevented the tribals from joining the Communist struggle by partially satisfying their urgent problems. But by similar arguments leaders of Christian missionaries should have been the target of the Maoists too, and why is never a thought given to the possibility that the Maoists could be involved in the violence against Christian villages?  The Maoists have long claimed that most of Orissa falls under the ‘liberated zone’ and the  Kandhamal district with its dense forest cover is a haven for them. The Swami received an anonymous threat only a week before he was killed. The local SP did not even register a case after the Swami lodged a formal complaint. Would the government have gained from the removal of the Swami? The BJD would then lose votes to the BJP.  Would the Conrgress which has weakened in the state, have gained from it – only if it was foolish enough to think of hoping to gain Christian votes as defender and protector of Christian minorities, once communal tensions could be flamed up either voluntarily from angry Hindu reaction to the assassination or a little discreet and pre-planned prompting.

For a die-hard Maoist, all religions are equally suspect, and if these religions are providing “cosmetic relief” to the “oppressed” and saturating them with “religious opiates” then they are all equally to be attacked. The Christians know this very well in China. For some strange reason they do not appear to attack the Christian missionaries at Kandhmal! [Historically the only religion that the Chinese Maoists have been partial to was Islam and Mao’s love affair with Islam in his early struggling days at Yenan. Security forces are said to have seized 20 guns from 47 Maoists arrested in connection with the burning of villages inhabited by Hindus. In this respect, the murder of Swami Laxmanananda may be said to closely resemble the murder of Swami Shanti Kali ji Maharaj in Tripura in August 2000; he too was shot in his own ashram by gun-wielding assassins after several dire warnings for anti-conversion activities in the state’s tribal belt. Subsequently, Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar admitted the involvement of a certain church-movement with the insurgency in the state. There has been reports suggesting that Swami Laxmanananda was also active in the movement against illegal beef trading, and was demanding a high level probe into an alleged illegal beef trading racket in Kandhamal.

The major reason behind this conflict in Kandhamal is actually due to India’s notorious reservation regime and politics. At the moment, almost half of desirable “social opportunities” are reserved one way or the other in India, resulting in a perpetuation and reconfirmation of social fractures, and the demand for their continuation and extension shows that reservations are self-defeating in their declared purpose – they never “uplift” and “empower” in concrete, socially tangible terms, for such empowerment actually weakens the case for “reservation” of the beneficiaries. The majority Kandha (Kondh) tribe which has Scheduled Tribe status was obviously alarmed at the second local group, the Scheduled Caste Panas [who by converting to Christianity lost the reservation benefits due to Scheduled Caste status under the constitution]  beginning to agitate for Scheduled Tribe status on the plea that they also spoke Kui, the mother tongue of the Kondhs, which is also the principal language of the district. The Hindus’ fears of lowered benefits due to competition deepened when the UPA-appointed Justice Ranganath Mishra Commission recommended extension of all reservation facilities to converts among the “Dalits”, which would include the Panas in Orissa.

Only if belonging to a special subgroup of Indians does not bring “special favours” over and above that of other Indians, will proselytizing religions or political parties cease to encourage and utilize the existing fractures within Indian society. What is needed is an all-inclusive developmental plan for all Indians that includes compulsory, uniform education, basic health-care, and economic opportunity irrespective of origin – combined with a clear recognition of a reward system of incentives to perform at all levels of society. Are Indians mature enough now to give and face the call “opportunities will be given unbiasedly – but you have to perform”?

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