Murder of Swami Lakshmanananda

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Main article: Swami Lakshmanananda

Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati and four others were murdered in August 2008, in the Odisha state of India. Swami Lakshmanananda was a Hindu monk and a highly revered spiritual leader who lived a life dedicated to tribal welfare.

Previous attack[edit]

Swami Lakshamanananda was on his way to visit Brahmanigoan village when a bus belonging to Mr. Sugriba Singh, Panna Christian leader and BJD Member of Parliament (Lower House) obstructed the road. Swami was attacked on the spot injuring him, his driver and security guard. In his statement Lakshamanananda blamed Mr. Radha Kanta Nayak, Congress Member of Parliament (Upper House) and chief of Christian group World Vision for the attack. He further stated that this was for the seventh time that they had failed to kill him.[1][2] [3][4]

Threat[edit]

The Swami received an anonymous threat only a week before he was killed. Ashram authorities also filed an FIR with the local police. However, no steps were taken to provide appropriate security cover to Swamiji.[5] Odisha Government admitted lapses might have occurred in his security and placed Kandhmal Superintendent of Police Nikhil Kanodia and officer-in-charge of Tumudibandha police station Jena under suspension.[6]

Assassination[edit]

Lakshamanananda was killed at his Kanya Ashram (a residential girl's school) in Tumudibandh, about 100 km from Phulbani, the district headquarters of Kandhamal district. Four others including a boy were also killed.[7]

The Kanya Ashram housed 130 girls on the day of the Janmashtami festival and many of the girls were eyewitnesses to the killing, as reported by Indian Express.[8] 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.[9]

Civil disorder and riots following assassination[edit]

Hundreds of people gathered on the route to pay their last respects to Lakshmanananda. Riots erupted when the procession passed through localities with Christian populations. Christians, who were perceived to be Congress supporters, were targeted everywhere; in some places many Hindu families were also attacked because they were Congress supporters. The attackers included activists of the VHP, the Bajrang Dal and other Sangh Parivar organisations, and workers of the BJP and the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), parties that are partners in the government headed by Naveen Patnaik. The violence also saw attacks on Christians who belonged to the Scheduled Castes and on people who claimed tribal status on the grounds that they spoke the Kui language of the Kondh tribal people. The Kui Samaj, which unites members of the native Kondh tribe in Kandhamal, was found to be very much on the side of the VHP and the ruling alliance.[10]

Investigations[edit]

The government announced a special investigative probe into the attack.[11][12]

The police have arrested Pradesh Kumar Das, an employee of the World Vision, a Christian Charity, from Khadagpur while escaping from the district at Buguda. In another drive, two other persons Vikram Digal and William Digal have been arrested from the house of Lal Digal, a local militant Christian, from Nuasahi at Gunjibadi, Nuagaan. They have admitted to having joined a group of 28 other assailants.[13]

On August 28, a letter of denial was received by a some media outlets, the VHP office in the Gajapati District of Orissa and the Bajrang Dal from a Maoist group. While the letter denied that the Central Committee of the Kotagarha branch of the Maoists had approved the attack, it claimed that some Maoists may have been bribed by Christians to launch the attack.[14] Soon after the appearance of the aforementioned letter, Azad, a leader of the Maoist People's Liberation Guerrilla Army, claimed responsibility for the murder of Lakshmanananda. Azad was suspected by the police of leading the attack himself.[15] On September 9, 2008 the Maoists, who work underground, made an official press release claiming responsibility for the killing of Lakshmanananda.[16] A few claims that Maoist sympathizers of south Orissa had initially denied the role of CPI-Maoist were made in the murder of VHP leaders that sparked off communal violence in Kandhamnal district.[17] Communist Party of India (Maoist) leader Sabyasachi Panda claimed that they killed Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four of his disciples at his Jalespeta ashram on 23 August. [18][19]

On Wednesday July 22, 2009, a young Maoist couple, Surendra and Ruppi Pidikka alias Jaya Venkwara claimed to have been involved in the Swami's killing and surrendered to the Orissa police.[20]

Reconstructing the final moments of the killing of VHP leader Laxmanananda Saraswati and his four associates in Kandhamal’s Jalespeta ashram in August 2008, Orissa police said that a Maoist who surrendered this week claimed there were four policemen at the ashram but they fled when the Maoists announced that they had come looking for the Swami. Four of the six Maoists who carried out the attack were from Chhattisgarh, the police were told. Rayagada SP Ashis Kumar Singh said Surendra Brekwada alias Dasu, who surrendered with his wife Ruppi Pidikka alias Jaya, told them that a six-member crack team of the Maoists, led by Orissa CPI (Maoist) leader Azad alias Duna Keshav Rao, reached Jalespeta ashram on August 23 evening and came across four lathi-wielding policemen. Brekwada, a sharpshooter, was one of the six who allegedly killed the 82-year-old Laxmanananda, Kishore Baba (45), Amritananda Baba (62), Mata Bhaktimayee (40) and Puranjan Ganthi (28), brother of one of the girl inmates of the tribal residential school.[21]

In spite of claims that the case of Swamiji's murder has been solved, it is widely believed to be a cover up, based on doubts expressed by several senior investigators and experts on left-wing extremism.[22] Subash Chouhan, national co-convener of the Bajrang Dal, refused to accept that the Maoists were responsible, saying "Why all of a sudden so many days after the incident has [Panda] come and spoken to the television channels?".[23]

Convictions[edit]

On 30 September 2013, Additional district judge Rajendra Kumar Tosh at an Additional district and sessions court in Phulbani convicted seven Christians[24][25][26] for the murder: Gadanath Chalanseth, Bijaya Kumar Shyamseth, Buddha Nayak, Sanatan Badamajhi, Duryadhan Sunamajhi, Bhaskar Sunamajhi and Munda Badamajhi.[27] However on 1 October 2013, the same court also convicted a Maoist leader from Andhra Pradesh for the same crime. The defence lawyer, S.K. Padhi said that the ruling would be appealed against in the Odisha High Court.[28]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Slain vhp man was conversion king". Indianexpress.com. Retrieved 2008-09-18. 
  2. ^ "Christians fear attacks by Indian Hindus". newsweek. 2007-12-29. Retrieved 2008-01-01. [dead link]
  3. ^ "RSS wing blames Cong MP for triggering communal tension in Kandhamal". The Pioneer. 27 December 2007. Retrieved 29 September 2009. 
  4. ^ Justice on trial. "Kandhamal (Orissa)". 
  5. ^ "Anti-conversion Swami 4 others shot dead". The Pioneer. 1970-01-01. Retrieved 2013-11-01. 
  6. ^ "2 suspects held for Swami's killing". The Pioneer. 1970-01-01. Retrieved 2013-11-01. 
  7. ^ Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader, four others shot dead The Economic Times - August 24, 2008
  8. ^ Trauma in ashram, schoolgirls witnessed Swami’s murder
  9. ^ Who killed Swami Lakshmanananda? Krishnakumar P, August 28, 2008
  10. ^ Sangh Parivar’s Orissa Project
  11. ^ Orissa announces judicial probe into murder of VHP leaders The Hindu - August 24, 2008
  12. ^ Protests in Orissa over killing of VHP leader NDTV - August 24, 2008
  13. ^ "Widespread anger in Kandhamal over killings". The Pioneer. 1970-01-01. Retrieved 2013-11-01. 
  14. ^ Maoists deny role in VHP leader’s murder The Hindu - August 29, 2008]
  15. ^ Mishra, Sandeep (30 August 2008). "Maoists claim they killed 'fascist' VHP leader in Orissa". Times of India. Retrieved 2008-08-31. 
  16. ^ "CPI Maoists claim VHP leader's killing". NDTV. September 9, 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-09. 
  17. ^ "Maoists deny role in VHP leader's murder". The Hindu (Chennai, India). August 29, 2008. 
  18. ^ "Maoists claim responsibility for killing of VHP leader" (Press release). The Hindu. October 5, 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-05. 
  19. ^ "We killed Swami, Maoists say again" (Press release). The Times of India. October 6, 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-05. 
  20. ^ Killers of Laxmanananda Saraswati surrender Zee News - July 22, 2009
  21. ^ Reconstructing the final moments of the killing of Laxmanananda Indian Express 25 July 2009
  22. ^ Who killed Swami Lakshmanananda? Rediff News
  23. ^ "Report: Maoists say they murdered Hindu leader". USA Today. 10/5/2008. Retrieved 2012-04-21.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  24. ^ "Indian Christians sentenced to life for Orissa killing will appeal". Christian Today Australia. 22 October 2013. Retrieved 1 November 2013. 
  25. ^ "India Christians Appeal Lifetime Sentence For ‘Murder’ Hindu Leader". BosNewsLife. 18 October 2013. Retrieved 1 November 2013. 
  26. ^ "Pray for the end of legal persecution in India". Mission Network News. 17 October 2013. Retrieved 1 November 2013. 
  27. ^ "Maoist leader convicted in Laxmanananda murder case". The Hindu. 2013-10-31. 
  28. ^ "Life term for 8 in Lakshmananda Murder case" (Press release). The Hindu. October 1, 2013. Retrieved 2013-10-04.