Odisha: from Hindu radical to Christian convert
He studied at a ashram established by Swami Lakshmanananda where “They instilled the poison of hatred in my mind since childhood.” Tortured for joining Christianity, today he visits families and invokes the healing of the sick through the power of prayer.
Cuttack-Bhubaneswar (AsiaNews) - Instead of praising the god Ram (Jai Shree Ram), Niladri Kanhara, 53, now praises Jesus (Jai Yesu).
A former member of the Hindu radical nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteer Organisation, RSS), a former leader in the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (Universal Hindu Council, VHP), and former follower of guru Lakshmanananda Saraswati in Kandhamal, before the 2008 pogrom, he took part in the desecration of churches in Odisha (Orissa) and in attacks against Christians.
Since then he has repented and converted to Christianity, and for this he too has been persecuted. “I found the true God and I welcomed Jesus Christ as my Redeemer and Saviour,” he said.
Niladri hails from Phiringia block, a village in Kandhamal with 90 Hindu families, an RSS stronghold.
“I studied up to 6th Class in 1980 in Chokapad, Tiakabali Block, the ashram built by VHP leader Swami Lakshmanananda. They instilled the poison of hatred in my mind since childhood. I learnt to hate and torture Christians. The belief was: ‘To save Hinduism, Christians must be eliminated from Kandhamal'.”
When “I was a VHP and RSS leader I tortured many Christians, threatened them with Ghar Wapsi[*] to Hinduism. I desecrated many churches. In 2005 my wife Usharani had divine visions. She forbade me from eating meat and drink.
“Our five children were sick. I went to the temple and offered pujas.[†] I sold gold off jewels; I sacrificed goats; I spent a lot of money.”
One day, “Rev Pavitra Mohomo Kata came to my house and spoke to my wife. He told her: 'If you believe in God, your daughter will be saved.' I hated him because he was a Christian. But Jesus Christ healed my daughter from illness thanks to the pastor’s constant prayers.
After this, “My Sangh Parivar[‡] colleagues were furious and abducted my son Bantu to teach the father a lesson.” Eventually, Niladri and the clergyman were physically attacked and beaten by members of the RSS and VHP. No one stood by him.
The Sangh Parivar carried out a social boycott of the "traitor" family: nobody could talk to them, nobody could help them, their children couldn't go to school. In 2008 Niladri fled to the forest and never went home.
In 2014, “when the BJP rose to power in the centre, the VHP and the RSS invited me to return to Hinduism by promising me many goods and opportunities. I refused everything to proclaim Jesus my Saviour.”
Currently, Niladri is actively involved in visiting families and praying, despite the death threats against him. Dusha Pradhan, Kalumaha and Raikia are three people who have benefited from the power of his prayer.
“I had been sick for a long time, then I was healed by the power of Jesus Christ through Nilagri’s prayers,” said Pradhan.
“Before, I used sacred threads, tying medicine to my hand, but now I no longer use these remedies after finding the true God,” Dusha added.
Gladdy Pradhan is taking her Class 10 exams. She “had constant headaches and felt dizzy. I was unable to concentrate on studying. [But] Now I am completely healed and I can study.”
[*] Literally, back home: reconversion activities.
[†] Devotional ritual prayers to propitiate the favour of the gods.
[‡] The umbrella term for the organisations connected to the RSS.