The Orissa administration refuses to blame the Bajrang Dal or any other Hindu group for the sustained attacks on Christians in Kandhamal district and elsewhere in the state, which has taken 35 lives and forced over 15,000 people to flee their homes and seek shelter in relief camps.
It insists the rioters were largely former students of a local school founded and run by Swami Laxmananda, whose murder, allegedly by Maoists, on August 23, sparked off the violence.
“Earlier we thought the mobs comprised people allied to the Bajrang Dal, the VHP or the RSS,” a senior government official told HT. “But after questioning most of the 500-odd people who have been arrested, we find that they have nothing to do with Hindu organisations. They are largely students of Swami Laxmananda who thought he had been killed by Christians and wanted to avenge his death. Some of them are erudite Sanskrit scholars.”
Given the growing clamour for a ban on the Bajrang Dal, following its alleged proactive role in the attacks on Christians in Orissa, Karnataka and elsewhere, the state government, where the BJP is an alliance partner, may well be attempting to deflect blame from the Dal. There was no way HT could independently verify the official’s assertion.
What is indubitable, however, is that Swami Laxmananda was a revered figure among Hindus of the region. He started his first ashram at Chakapad in Kandhamal district, in 1969, and a second one in Jalaspeta, 100 km away, soon after. He visited remote villages and brought back with him children from underprivileged families who were provided free education at the residential schools he opened at both ashrams.