ICC Note: In 2008, seven Christians in India were falsely accused of murdering Hindu leaders Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, a murder that ultimately set off India’s worst instance of Christian persecution. Since then, these Christians have been convicted and have languished in jail for the past ten years. Now, the wives of these seven Christians are fighting for justice and the release of their wrongfully convicted husbands.
10/08/2018 India (World Watch Monitor) – It was around midnight on 4 October 2008 that Munda and Sanathan Badamajhi, and Durjo Sunamajhi, were arrested by dozens of police in their shanty homes in India’s eastern Odisha state.
Ten years on, these three illiterate Christians, from the remote Madaguda area of Kandhamal are yet to return home.
Four other Christians – Bhaskar Sunamajhi, Bijay Kumar Sanseth, Buddhadeb Nayak, Gornath Chalenthseth – also arrested by police in December 2008 – continue to languish in jail.
All seven were charged with the August, 2008 murder of Hindu leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati that triggered the worst orchestrated anti-Christian violence in modern India.
(Nearly 100 Christians were killed, 300 churches and 6,000 Christian houses plundered and torched, leaving over 56,000 homeless in Kandhamal after a Hindu nationalist group promptly claimed that the murder was a ‘Christian conspiracy’).
The seven were abruptly convicted to life imprisonment in October 2013 by a third judge after two trial court judges – who had openly indicated during the trial that the accused were innocent – were transferred one after another during the long four years of trial.
However, in June 2015, two top police officials – who had relied upon the same conspiracy theory to ensure the conviction of the innocent Christians – testified before the Kandhamal judicial inquiry commission that the allegations were false. Despite this, the appeal hearing has been constantly postponed.
“My husband had never gone to that place (the ashram where the Hindu leader was shot dead). He was with us at the time the Swami was killed. How could he be punished for that murder?” Pabitra Sanseth told the media in mid-September, tears pouring down her cheeks.
With three other wives, she had travelled to Bhubaneswar, 380 kms from home, for the dubbing into Odia of a documentary ‘‘Innocents Imprisoned’. (It was commissioned by journalist Anto Akkara, who has championed the men’s case for release).
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