Lakshmanananda Saraswati

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Lakshmanananda Saraswati (1926 – 23 August 2008), born Shravan Krishna Navami, also known as Swami Lakshmanananda, was a Hindu monk and a highly revered spiritual leader who lived a life dedicated to tribal welfare. The Swami was a native of Gurujanga village in Talcher and was born into a Brahmin family. Over four decades ago, he left his wife and one-year-old son to become a monk, and moved to Rishikesh in the Himalayas.[1] In 1968, he established an ashram at Chakapada in Kandhamal district of Odisha. Since 1970 he had been involved in social services promoting tribal welfare. He was regarded as a messiah among Hindu tribals of the area.[2]

Attacks[edit]

His work for the upliftment of isolated tribal populations and opposition to aggressive proselytizing and missionary activities, had run afoul of several groups as well as Maoist groups. He was severely injured in an attack by a mob in 2007.[3] Saraswati accused the Congress Member of Parliament and the chief of the missionary organisation, World Vision, Radhakant Nayak, of complicity in the attack on him. He also alleged that there was a nexus between Maoist terrorists and missionaries. The swami also said that World Vision spent money in India for proselytization, including during the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.[3][4] An Assam-cadre IPS officer (retired) from Odisha, Ashok Sahu, after visiting the Kandhamal district, alleged that an NGO, World Vision, patronised by Congress Rajya Sabha member Radhakanta Nayak, had a role in the attack on Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati on 24 December.[5]

The Swami's claim that he had been attacked eight times before 2008[6] was corroborated in January 2008 by a fact-finding commission, chaired by Additional Advocate General of Rajasthan G.S. Gill. The first attack on the Swami occurred on 26 December 1970.[7]

Assassination[edit]

He was assassinated on 23 August 2008[8] along with four disciples at his kanyashram (girls school) at Tumudibandha, about 100 km from Phulbani, the district headquarters of Kandhmal district, on the sacred day of Janmashtami. 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. Within minutes of reaching the crime scene, the district authorities made a statement saying it was suspected Maoists who killed the Swami. The Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda told the private Oriya channels at an undisclosed location that the Maoists decided to eliminate Saraswati as he was 'spreading social unrest' in the tribal-dominated district.[9] However, some disagree that Maoists or left wing extremists could be behind the assassination of the monk.[10][11]

Hundreds of people had gathered en route to pay their last respects to Lakshmanananda. They ended up engaging in civil unrest, rioting, looting and attacked places of worship, mostly churches and Christian properties.[12]

Convictions[edit]

On 30 September 2013, Additional district judge Rajendra Kumar Tosh at an Additional district and sessions court in Phulbani convicted seven Christians[13][14][15] for the murder: Gadanath Chalanseth, Bijaya Kumar Shyamseth, Buddha Nayak, Sanatan Badamajhi, Duryadhan Sunamajhi, Bhaskar Sunamajhi and Munda Badamajhi.[16] However, on 1 October 2013, the same court also convicted a Maoist leader from Andhra Pradesh for the same crime.

See also[edit]

References[edit]