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Hindutva's Fury against Christians in Orissa

The anti-Christian violence in Orissa, orchestrated by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and its allies, has unleashed the fury of Hindu kandhas against dalit pana Christians. The former is resentful of the latter's attempts to get scheduled tribe status. The new-found assertiveness of the previously untouchable panas has added to the tension. The Hindutva organisations, engaged in converting tribals to Hinduism, accuse Christian missionaries of "forcing" the dalits to convert. They conveniently ignore the continuing oppressive casteist order that forces the dalits to do so.

COMMENTARYseptember 13, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly16with the serious deficiencies of the earlier land reforms. The reforms of the 1970s sought to address, even if partially, the class aspect of the land question. The present situation demands addressing its caste and community aspects. Given the marked asymmetries in land distribution and intensifying struggles by the landless tribal people and dalits, and the ploy of “absolute scarcity” may no longer work. Indeed, it is possible to make land availa-ble to the landless tribal people and dalits without disturbing the small and middle holders. Very large extent of land could be mobilised by not renewing the leases of big, corporate plantations. It might be pos-sible to identify areas on the forest fringes that have little conservation value such as forests subjected to fragmentation and degraded by the state itself through “plan-tation forestry”. Varied new, institutional forms, such as collective leases and people’s cooperative forms could be thought of. The plantations in Munnar were transferred to the workers at the instance of, and for, the Tatas to move up the global tea commodity chain. Other plantations could be restructured at the instance of, and for, the present workers of these estates and landless tribal people and dalits so that they acquire at least some degree of social and economic mobility. The time to do these is now; before special economic zones and air-ports, hotels and resorts, malls and multi-plex swallow up the last bits of space.Hindutva’s Fury against Christians in Orissa Pralay KanungoThe last week of August scripted a horror story for the Christian minorities in Orissa. They experi-enced the fury of the worst-ever com-munal rage – churches were set on fire, Christian institutions, orphanages and hamlets were destroyed, pastors were attacked, one nun was burnt alive and there were reports of the gangrape of another. Fearing this fury, thousands of Christians fled their homes to take shelter in the forest. The violence was not confined to Kandhamal district alone; it shook other districts as well, killing, injuring and terrorising Christians and rendering thousands homeless. All this barbaric violence followed the night of August 23 when a controversial Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Laxmana-nanda Saraswati and his four associates, while celebrating Janmashtami at Jalespata Ashram, were killed by a group of armed assassins.Who killed Laxmanananda? Various theories are doing the rounds. While the Maoists claim that they did so, because the sadhu has been “mixing religion with politics” and pursuing a “fascist” and divi-sive communal agenda, the Sangh parivar, blamed a “Christian conspiracy”, and legitimised their reign of terror as a befit-ting revenge. Some others believe that this murder has been engineered by a section of the parivar itself in order to reap an electoral advantage for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the forthcoming elections. Laxmanananda and His MissionWho was Laxmanananda and what was his mission? More than five decades ago he left his family home in Dhenkanal dis-trict to become a sadhu. After spending some years in the ashrams of north India, he participated in the 1966 gau (cow) raksha andolan and then joined the newly formed VHP as a Hindu missionary. As part of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-VHP strategy he came to Phulbani (now Kandhamal) in 1969 and set up base at Chakapada with a twofold objective: Hinduising the adivasis and countering the proselytising activities of the Christian missionaries. Saraswati concentrated on the adivasis, primarily the kandhas, con-stituting more than half of Kandhamal’s population, in order to bring them closer to Hindutva. Claiming that “vanavasis are Hindus” he systematically introduced sat-sangs and yagyas, Hindu gods and god-desses, Hindu religious scriptures and mode of worship, and organised mega- religious congregations (‘ashtaprahara namayagyas’) attracting and mobilising the kandhas in a big way. Laxmanananda opened schools, colleges, hostels for the adivasi boys and girls; the Sangh parivar trained them ideologically and created a pool of permanent cadre. Though Hindu-isation did not offer any substantive socio-economic empowerment to the poor adi-vasis, theVHP’s “packaged Hinduism” gave them a sort of religious and cultural gratification; in an otherwise hopeless existential world, it perhaps generated some hopes under a larger Hindu identity. Pralay Kanungo ( is with the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.The anti-Christian violence in Orissa, orchestrated by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and its allies, has unleashed the fury of Hindu kandhas against dalit pana Christians. The former is resentful of the latter’s attempts to get scheduled tribe status. The new-found assertiveness of the previously untouchable panas has added to the tension. The Hindutva organisations, engaged in converting tribals to Hinduism, accuse Christian missionaries of “forcing” the dalits to convert. They conveniently ignore the continuing oppressive casteist order that forces the dalits to do so.
COMMENTARYEconomic & Political Weekly EPW september 13, 200817Besides, Laxmanananda’s demonisation of the Christian panas, the traditional rivals of “Hindu” kandhas, as the “other” provided them with a purpose to be part of Hindutva. Once the process of Hindui-sation picked up momentum, Laxmana-nanda took up reconversion (‘ghar wapsi’) of the Christian converts back to Hinduism.Laxmanananda’s agenda had various implications: firstly, by throwing up an alternate welfare system it challenged Christian missionaries who had earlier monopolised education and healthcare services in the non-state sectors, compel-ling them to be more competitive in order to retain their influence. Secondly, aggres-sive Hinduisation and militant “reconver-sion” propelled them to reorient their proselytisation discourse and strategy. New Christian denominations entered, more churches were opened; energetic evangelical groups mushroomed leaving the “laid back” Catholic church behind. Thus a quiet Kandhamal became a site of competing religiosity. Thirdly, militant Hinduisation deeply divided adivasis and dalits on communal lines. Laxmanananda successfully pitched “Hindu” kandhas against Christian panas. Kandha-Pana Ethnic Divide The kandha-pana ethnic divide is not of recent origins. Historically, kandhas, the original inhabitants of Kandhamal, due to their control over land, perceived them-selves as ‘rajas’ (kings) and the migrant landless panas from the plains as their ‘prajas’ (subjects). This sense of superior-ity was extended to the social and cultural spheres as well. However, colonial inter-vention changed this scenario by intro-ducing new land relations and depriving the kandhas of their traditional rights over the forest land. Moreover, refusal by kand-has to directly deal with the outside world, gave an opportunity to the panas, both material and political. Though the kandhas used the panas as “middle men”, they nonetheless despised this role and their lit-erature depicted panas as “liars”, “cheats” and “hypocrites”. Perhaps, this resentment was partly due to the relative success of some panas, who made gains in getting petty jobs, undertaking small trade, and even acquiring land under the colonial rule. Thus, for the kandhas, the panas became exploiters and land snatchers.In the post-independence period this got further crystallised with the percep-tion that the panas, with the help of the state as well as the church, have been cor-nering the maximum benefits of constitu-tional reservation due to their educational and economic advantage. This perception is a little misplaced as a large majority of the panas are poor and moreover, being dalit Christians, they are constitutionally deprived of the benefits of reservation. The kandhas, however, allege that the panas hide their Christian identity and even claim to be scheduled tribes (ST) or Hindu scheduled castes (SC) by producing forged certificates. The panas, they fear, are out to dominate them economically, politically and culturally.True, a small section of the panas, ben-efiting from the education imparted by the state and the church has entered into the bureaucracy and politics thereby acquir-ing visibility and prominence in an other-wise poor district. Moreover, this elite, though primarily self-serving, occasion-ally takes up the issues of the community and does not shy away from showing off its clout. In the process, it has become a kind of role model for the poor panas – arousing their consciousness, enhancing their aspirations, and giving them a sense of empowerment. The emergence of the panas as an assertive community has become an eyesore to the upper caste Hindus, not only in Kandhamal but also in other parts of Orissa. Thus, stereotypes of the pana as “betrayer”, “cunning”, “deceit-ful”, “exploiter”, etc, has entered into the caste discourses in Orissa. Upper caste Hindus find it hard to digest the growing assertion of the panas, who were once untouchable and at the bottom of the social ladder. The upper and middle caste Hindus and the Sangh parivar lead-ers, both being outsiders in the district, enjoy a symbiotic relationship. While most of the caste Hindus like brahmins and kumutis have migrated from the neigh-bouring districts of Ganjam and Gajapati as government servants and traders, Laxmanananda and many of his close associates came from outside as well. Both see the assertive panas as a threat to their hegemony; they would prefer a “docile” kandha to a “defiant’ pana any day; it is not really the latter’s religion so much, as his informed consciousness. However, religion here becomes an additional stick to beat the dalit panas. Hence, the Sangh parivar, in collaboration with the upper caste elite and middle caste petty bourgeoisie, has been mobilising kandhas as Hindus against panas who are dalit Christians by giving it a communal colour, thereby widening the ethnic cleavage further. Communal ConfrontationThus, the kandha-pana ethnic divide has been conveniently converted into a Hindu-Christian communal confrontation. There have been periodic eruptions of ethno-communal violence in Kandhamal partic-ularly since the early 1990s. During the Ramjanmabhoomi agitation when yatras were undertaken by the VHP, churches were vandalised though Christians had nothing to do with the Babri masjid. While the mobilisation was anti-Muslim every-where else, it was anti-Christian in Kand-hamal, understandably because of the negligible Muslim presence. The Ram-janmabhoomi agitation brought many kandhas to the Hindutva fold. In 1992, the kandha-pana violence continued for a long spell. In 2004, the Catholic church was vandalised in Raikia. In 2006, Laxmana-nanda organised a massive congregation of four to five lakhs of people at Chakapada to commemorate M S Golwalkar’s birth centenary; the entire parivar and the state machinery were present. The fallout was expected sooner or later. In 2007, the situ-ation further worsened when panas demanded ST status because like the kandhas they also spoke the same “Kui” language. This infuriated the kandhas as their rivals would not only snatch away their economic resources but also their sacred cultural resources by claiming an equal status. The Sangh parivar soon started a campaign against this demand and mobilised kandhas under the kand-hamal Kui Samaj. Thus started a violent Hindu-Christian confrontation on Christ-mas eve in 2007. Christians retaliated for the first time; some Hindu houses were burnt in Brahmanigaon. However, the recent riots surpassed all the previous ones in their ferocity.


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COMMENTARYEconomic & Political Weekly EPW september 13, 200819per cent). The anti-Christian campaign led to the barbaric killing of Graham Staines and his two sons at Manoharpur, Keonjhar, and also of pastor Arul Doss at Jamuboni, Mayurbhanj, in 1999. The Orissa govern-ment has passed the Orissa Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act, 1960 and the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, 1967; both these Acts have helped the Sangh parivar to fan out its anti-Christian agenda. Conversion ControversyOrissa has remained under the hegemony of Jagannath culture for centuries; despite its celebration of universalism and syncre-tism, it still retains a brahminical core. First, when the parivar accuses Christian missionaries of converting Hindus, it knows well enough that caste prejudices are still rampant and dalits are not allowed to enter a Hindu temple despite the fact that the Orissa government has passed the Temple Entry Act way back in 1947. The panas of Kandhamal demanded entry into the Shiva temple in the early 1950s which was fiercely resisted; 50 years later the position remains the same. Hence, neither “lure” nor “force” is really needed for con-version; it is the Hindu hierarchical oppres-sive social order that forces the poor dalits to change their god. Second, the parivar raises the role of foreign money in prose-lytisation. However, the VHP and the Vanavasi Kalayan Ashram are in the list of recipients of the India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF), the Sangh parivar’s American funding agency. Third, the pari-var accuses missionaries of forcing the con-verts to discard their age-old traditions. Ironically, Laxmanananda systematically attacked all those tribal social and cultural practices which did not conform to “Hindu” traditions; for instance, ‘dhangda dhangdi’, a tribal practice of choosing life partners was denounced as ‘kusanskar’ (uncivilised) and was forcibly replaced with the Hindu marriage institution. Thus, Hindutva wants an exclusive proselytising right over the adivasis as they are “Hindus” without allowing them to exercise their freedom to choose their god.ConclusionsThe Kandhamal riots have exposed Hindutva’s brahmanical agenda which has no space for the poor dalits. When the panas demanded entry into the Shiva tem-ple in the 1950s, Hindutva did not recog-nise their legal right; if at all Hindutva per-mits, it has to be under the consent and patronage of the ‘savarnas’. Dalits in Kandhamal have consciously rejected Hinduism and embraced Christianity and hence, face the fury of Hindu communalism. In Kandhamal, the parivar’s anti-Christian and anti-dalit discourses run together. Milind Wani ( and Ashish Kothari ( are members of Kalpavriksh Environmental Action Group.Globalisation vs India’s ForestsMilind Wani, Ashish KothariWanton usage of forest land in the name of development has destroyed efforts towards community-led measures for protection and conservation in Orissa. The laxity in framing adequate environmental laws and the flouting of even the existing laws have had disastrous effects on the livelihoods of forest- dwelling people in the state.There is palpable anger and frustra-tion in the village of Lapanga, in the Sambalpur district of Orissa. One hundred years of community-led forest protection is being undermined as the state government has given two corporate enti-ties permission to cut through the forest for laying roads and a water pipeline. Villag-ers’ protests have not been heeded, and the companies have already begun work. Lapanga is not an isolated case. Across India, forests conserved by local commu-nities for decades are being handed over to powerful commercial interests. This is in the name of the “development at all costs” that accompanies the country’s quest to become one of the world’s fastest grow-ing economies. At stake are lakhs of hec-tares of biodiversity-rich natural resource systems, the livelihoods of several million people who depend directly on these forests, and the water security of a much larger population. Nowhere is this more stark than the forest and tribal regions of Orissa, which the state government seems bent on converting into the raw material and labour capital of the world. Undermining Community InitiativesThe Rasol Khesra Jungle in Nayagarh dis-trict is a predominantly sal (shorea robusta) forest with two adjoining reservoirs. Spread over 860 acres, Rasol Khesra is an example of community initiated regenera-tion of forests and wildlife. The area is a pathway for elephants, and habitat for pangolin, wild dog, mouse deer, hyena, fly-ing squirrel, and other wildlife. Four vil-lages depend on this forest for various sur-vival and livelihood produce. Village forest committees (VFC) manage the forest using the ‘thengapali’ system. Thengapali (thenga = baton, pali = free/volunteer labour for the community), also interpreted as “turn of the baton”, is an ancient practice that has attracted forest management gurus from across the world. Voluntary forest guards from the community patrol the for-est against any untoward incident, and in the evening leave their batons outside the door of one or more households, who will take up the patrolling the following day. Anybody caught stealing forest produce is brought before the VFC for punishment. Around 1984, land in the village was leased to the Industrial Development

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