Orissa pogroms: police clear Christians from the death of Hindu religious leader
The Crime Branch (CB) of the Orissa Police Department, which led the investigations into the events of 2008, filed charges against at least seven people for their involvement in the killing of Saraswati and some of his followers in the Jaleshpata Ashram, in the Tumudibandh area (Kandhamal District), where the murders took place in the evening of 23 August 2008.
According to sources, the inquiry found that Maoist leaders set a militia to carry out their plan, which included the killing of the historic leader of the Viswa Hindu Parishad (VHP) or World Hindu Council.
“All seven are confirmed Maoists," CB Inspector General Abhay said. The preliminary charge sheet filed earlier in 2009 had also named seven persons.
Fourteen of the people now believed to be involved in the murder are members of a Maoist group, including top Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda.
Early in the investigation, a CB official did say that the outlawed Maoist organisation had immediately claimed responsibility for the killing, blaming the religious leader for spreading hatred among people in the name of religion.
Since the 1960s, the swami had been involved in campaigns against Dalit conversions to Christianity, by encouraging attacks against churches, schools, leper colonies, hospitals and Christian social centres.
By contrast, Orissa VHP President Durga Prasad Kar had initially filed a petition raising doubts about Maoist involvement in the murder. Kar, who is a retired chief commissioner of income tax, claimed that Saraswati had been the target of eight assassination attempts between 1969 and December 2007.
“From the aforesaid attacks there should not be an iota of doubt that Swami Laxmananda Saraswati had been a target for converted Christians and the said target was achieved on August 23, 2008 with his killing,” Kar said. In the intervention petition, he also claimed that “All previous attempts were from converted Christians and not by Maoists”.
Sajan K. George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), has called instead for the banning of the VHP.
“The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) should make an unconditional apology to the people of India and the international community for spreading falsehoods against Christians, alleging the involvement of Churches in the murder of VHP leader Laxmanananda Saraswati. The final charge sheet filed by the police clearly shows the planning and execution of the murder of VHP leader by senior Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda and six others. The State of Orissa and the central government should closely monitor the VHP and other radical Hindu organisations to prevent future attacks against the Christian minority in India.”
The other six accused are Udaya alias Pulari Rama Rao, Jadu alias Somanath Dandasena, Azad alias Dona Keshava Rao, Dasru alias Dasanna, Lalu and Lakhmu alias Madan. Only two of the seven have been arrested.
After the VHP blamed Christians for the assassination, a wave of violence swept across Kandhamal. More than one hundred Christians were killed, tens of thousands were forced from their homes, and hundreds of churches and other Christian institutions were vandalised or destroyed.