Cover Story:Community owns up Mission
Intro: Swamiji was an ardent protagonist of equality of men and women. In 1988, he set up his dream project, Shankaracharya Kanyasharma at Jalespata
of Kandhamal district.
Prolific Vedanta scholar Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati might have been assassinated in 2008 by those people, who were intolerant of what he was living for, but the initiative that he had taken four decades ago is still relevant today with his followers taking forward
the mission—with the same vigor and enthusiasm.
He was brutally killed in August 2008 on Shri Krishna Janmastami Day at Jalaspata in Odisha’s Vanvasi dominated Kandhamal district. Swami Laxmanananda was a saffron clad saint, but his mission was not for personal salvation. He lived for five decades for the liberation of those who were illiterate, poor and exploited since decades.
About four decades ago a little Laxmanananda reached remote and inaccessible Chakapada village on foot after performing sadhana in the Himalayas. He was advised to do something good for the deprived Vanvasis of Odisha. In 1969, he started a Sanskrit school in Chakapada village in which about 500 students are getting Sanskrit education which was later upgraded up to a college. Most of the students are Vanvasis. Since Swamiji believed in the equality of men and women , almost 250 girls are getting education in this residential school. This was the very place, where he was killed in August 2008.
“Swamiji firmly believed in the fact that Vanvasis are deeply rooted in the rich Indian tradition and they could never be called backward. He strived to make a small area for himself which would be self-sufficient in all respects. He believed in the fact that education was real empowerment of the society. He was also of the view that invasion of foreign culture through inducement or allurement while conversion is the real danger to the sovereignty and integrity of Bharat. He remained firm on this conviction and till the last drop of his blood he strived to achieve it,” says Dr Laxmikanta Dash, state general secretary of Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram while remembering Swamiji’s contribution.
“A prolific Sanskrit and Vedic scholar Swamiji started teaching Vanvasi kids Vedic sutras and his conviction was that anyone born on Indian soil was good enough to study Sanskrit. He wanted to break the notion that Sanskrit is the language of Bramhins,” Dr Das further added. This devotion helped him upgrade the Sanskrit school to Shastri and Upa- Shashtri (parallel to 10+2) and finally to university education. Many products of this college got into university faculty and Odisha Administrative Service. They also spread across entire Kandhmal district and worked as teachers.
“Swamiji did not believe in caste system and never accepted worshiping God as monopoly of any caste. As the morning descends, young students in his gurukul were seen performing yajna reciting mantras like any learned Pundits. He believed in the fact that education and awareness were key to develop a healthy society,” Says Pundit Jagabandhu Dash, Head of the Chakapad School. “Apart from education, Swamiji is seen as an economic crusader as well as environmental activist. He took up irrigation and agriculture as the main areas of his thrust and made local Kandha Vanvasi community to break away from traditional work of collecting minor forest produce and look to agriculture as the real source of livelihood,” says Shri Hiralal Pradhan, treasurer of Shankaracharya Kanyashram, Jaleshpeta. Not only this, using local traditional knowhow the ever flowing streams from hill tops were diverted to create water storage points so that people may use that water for irrigation. This was really a silent revolution in Kandhamal. As a result, the Vanvasis substantially improved their livelihood. Kandhamal in Odisha is today famous for organic farming. The turmeric of Kandhamal has carved a niche world over. Beans of Kandhamal’s Raikia have demands all over the state. It was Swamiji who encouraged local Vanvasis to take up agriculture as their profession. It wouldn’t be wrong to call him a green crusader of Odisha.
He wanted the Vanvasis to worship trees as incarnation of God. While most of the Vanvasi districts in the state have witnessed huge destruction of forests, Kandhamal is the only district where forest cover has substantially gone up. “Government statistics speaks for itself. It doesn’t matter if anybody recognises his dedication and commitment or not, the vanvasis of Kandhamal are very much aware that the saint always took economic empowerment of local population as his real tapasya,” says Shri Laxmikant Dash, general secretary of Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram Odisha. Perhaps media and his detractors failed to recognise this dimension of his life and concentrated only on the religious aspect.
Inducement and allurement were the methods they applied in the guise of sewa to achieve their real goal of conversion. Swamiji was dead against it. He stood like a rock in front of the foreign missionaries. He believed that the church was uprooting the local communities from their roots. That is why he wanted to link them to Jagannath traditions, which emerged from Vanvasis. For it he organised Jagannath Rath Yatras in Vanvasis heart land of the state. He himself started Yatra to restore Dharani Penu (Mother Earth Goddess) worshiped by Kandha Vanvasi community.
Swamiji faced at least eight unsuccessful bid on his life. A year before he was assassinated he went public naming the then Congress Rajya Sabha MP Radhakanta Nayak was the main conspirator in the bid on his life in 2007. The Government had then set up a judicial commission to probe the violent reaction of the Vanvasis after attack on Swamiji but bothered to interrogate the accused MP.
A year later again there was another attempt to annihilate him by a anonymous outfit called ‘Pahadia Brunda’. As a law abiding citizen, Swamiji went to the police station a day before his assassination and registered complaint. Many news channels gave wide publicity to it. But despite that the state government failed to protect him. He was brutally killed along with his disciples on the night of Shri Krishna Janmasthami in 2008 at Jalespata. Maoists claimed that they had killed him. But according to circumstantial evidences, the Maoists were used as contract killers but the real conspirators were some others. It is a fact that Investigation has remained inconclusive even after six years of his death. However, the mission that he started is in full swing despite some initial hiccups. But as Swamiji always involved local people in his works, they chose to own up the responsibility.
Samanwaya Nanda (The writer is a correspondent from Bhuwaneshwar)