New Book Reignites Questions Over Alleged Cover-Up of Kandhamal Killings

Politicians, rights activists demand probe into circulation of hate literature following Swami Laxmanananda’s killing.

Christians attend a protest against the killings and atrocities on Christians in Odissa and Karnataka, in New Delhi September 26, 2008. Credit: Reuters/Adnan Abidi/Files

Christians attend a protest against the killings and atrocities on Christians in Odissa and Karnataka, in New Delhi. Credit: Reuters

New Delhi: A group of politicians and rights activists on Friday criticised the manner in which the murder of Swami Laxmanananda in 2008 was investigated and how innocent people were allegedly tried and convicted for the crime without proper evidence.

The speakers – who demanded a probe into the “real conspiracy” behind Laxmanananda’s killing – were attending the release of a revised edition of journalist Anto Akkara’s book Who Killed Swami Laxmanananda. The book examines the killing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader in Odisha’s Kandhamal and the consequent widespread violence against members of the Christian community in the district.

Christians were targeted after Swami’s killing

In the latest edition, Akkara has looked at how following the 81-year-old swami’s death, nearly 100 Christians were killed and 300 churches and 6,000 houses plundered in a spate of violence that rendered nearly 56,000 homeless.

At the launch of the book, Akkara also played a video clip of Laxmanananda in which he is shown saying: “The actual intention of the Europe, US, the Pope and Sonia Gandhi was to convert the entire region into the independent Christian land. God has sent me from Himalaya and it was stalled. That is why their campaign was to drive away swamiji and create a Christian land. As long as I am alive I shall not let you do that”.

Akkara says this video was cited in the documentary ‘The Agony of Kandhamal’ (which was produced by the India Foundation) and was allegedly used as ‘evidence’ to prove the ‘Christian conspiracy’ behind the murder of the Swami.

Swami killed in suspicious circumstances

He also alleged that Laxmanananda’s trusted bodyguard was missing on the day the swami was attacked and that the police guards ran away when the assailants entered the ashram.

Following the murder, Akkara claimed, four Christians including a 13-year old illiterate boy were picked up by VHP workers, thrashed and then dumped in police stations. “Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Praveen Togadia announced the names of ‘Swami’s killers’ and not the police. That is how the nation was fooled about the ‘Christian conspiracy’ behind the Swami’s murder.”

Further, the journalist said, “when the police could not fix the ‘first batch of killers’ who had been detained for 40 days”, they were let off with an affidavit that read “due to fear, we had taken shelter in police”.

Then, Akkara said, the investigation team arrested the ‘second batch of killers’ – this time seven innocent Christians from remote Kotagarh jungle in two batches. Akkara said judge Biranchi N. Mishra of the fast track court who had presided over the final two years of trial was transferred in 2013 before the verdict was delivered.

Seven Christians convicted without “worthwhile evidence”

The judgement in the case was delivered by a third judge in October 2013 and all the seven accused were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. This, Akkara claimed, happened even though “no worthwhile evidence” was brought before the fast track court judges.

Akkara, who subsequently also brought the family members of these seven “innocent” convicts to Delhi, to let the media know their real story, said “surprisingly, two years after this conviction, the same police officers who had ensured the conviction of the innocent Christians told the Justice Naidu Commission of Enquiry that the much trumpeted ‘Christian conspiracy’ theory was baseless”.

He said the swami’s claim of coming to Kandhamal to not let it become a “Christian land” was parroted in various VHP statements on the murder from day one. “Since the swami had named even the Pope and Sonia Gandhi as people who considered him a threat, it was easy to spread the rumour that Christians had killed him.” Therefore, he charged that Swami’s murder was actually a “supari’ (contract) killing”.

Latest edition questions books, authors and publishers’ role

In the latest edition of the book, Akkara has written about attempts to cover up the real controversy. He has claimed that he stumbled upon this mammoth fraud from documents “gifted” by then Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh spokesperson Ram Madhav to the head of the Kerala Catholic Church during a visit in 2012.

The author claimed from these documents it was revealed that two men – Michael Parker and Brannon Parker – supposedly authored the same book on Kandhamal under different titles. “Harvest of Hate – Kandhamal in Crossfire by Seattle-based anthropologist Michael Parker was published by the India Foundation in 2009,” Akkara said. The bulky book carried a ‘publisher’s note’ by then India Foundation director Nirmala Sitharaman, who is now India’s defence minister.

Interestingly, he said, in her introduction to ‘Harvest of Hate‘, Sitharaman had described the author Michael Parker as ‘born in India’ while the profile at the end of the same book declared that Parker was “born in the US”.

The same Michael Parker book, Akkara said, was now being marketed worldwide as ORISSA in the CROSSFIRE – Kandhamal Burning by Brannon Parker.

On downloading this book from the Internet, Akkara said he discovered that the name of the publisher – India Foundation – was there but there were no contact numbers. But there was an address – “343, Chandanwadi Apartment, Sector 10, Dwarka, New Delhi 110045” – which turned out to be that of a house owned by national security adviser Ajit Kumar Doval.

NHRC accused of taking it easy

Akkara said a DVD titled ‘The Agony of Kandhamal‘ was also brought out by India Foundation which portrayed Hindus as victims by forging testimonies of Christian victims. He lamented that the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) “played a dubious role” in the Kandhamal cover up by not even issuing a press release in the last nine years.

Having taken 25 trips to Kandhamal in pursuit of the truth, Akkara also questioned why no action has been taken by the Odisha government on the enquiry report of Justice Naidu Commission which was submitted December 22, 2015.

Seeking a probe into the massive cover-up of the real conspiracy, senior Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Brinda Karat said: “Akkara’s book has brought out the absurdities and discrepancies of the judgement convicting seven persons in the case wherein a resolution of a church, that later turned out to be fudged, is the only evidence.”

She said after some Maoists claimed that they were responsible for the killing of the swami, all efforts were made by the prosecution to “manufacture evidence” to show that the seven accused had links with the Maoists. “This is the most outrageous travesty of justice,” she said.

Karat said she had visited the seven accused in jail in 2015 and had also urged the President of India to ensure that they were not victimised the way they were. “The judgment is an example of what it should not be,” she said, adding that the review has unfortunately dragged for a long while in the High Court.

Make Naidu Commission findings public

Demanding that the Naidu Commission report be made public, she alleged that BJP ensured in this case that every single process of justice was subverted. Even when it came to those accused of killing Christians and raping a nun, she said while 13 were convicted for murders all are out on bail. As for the rape case, she said only one convict was in jail in 2015 and in all probability he too would have come out.

On the questions raised by the book, Karat asked, “who are the Parker brothers?”.

She also wondered why no question of plagiarism arose despite both the books having the same text. She also noted that when Teesta Setalvad handed some documents to the United Nations, she was accused of treason. “Why is it then that no questions are being asked of Ram Madhav for handing over documents to US agencies?” she asked.

Seeking an enquiry into the role of India Foundation and Doval in the whole episode, Karat said the books were written to project the Christian community in a certain light. “This shows that there was a method in which the propaganda machinery was set up with complicity of people in the political scene.” Karat said truth also needs to come out because the issue also pertains to the rights of dalits and adivasis as all the seven convicts belong to these.

Soft Hindutva a challenge to idea of India

Releasing the book, veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar emphasised the need to preserve the country’s plurality, cautioning that “some forces are disfiguring the country by enforcing majoritarianism, leading to slipping of the ‘idea of India’.” He decried that a “soft kind of Hindutva” (Hindu nationalism) was spreading across the country that needed to be challenged by people, especially the younger generation.

General secretary of CPI, D. Raja, said an atmosphere of “hatred and fear” was being spread through “cultural fascism” and called for fighting it to “save the country”.

Leader of the United Christian Forum, John Dayal, questioned why the appeal against the fast track court order was getting delayed. “Are they delaying the judgment (on the appeal of the Christians) because don’t want to answer the question ‘who killed the swami?”

Stating that a senior VHP leader was in Kandhamal the day the swami was killed, Dayal said “everybody knows who killed the swami, they just do not want to say it.”