Release of Imprisoned Christian Gives Hope to Other Wrongfully Convicted Believers in India

When police took Gornath Chalanseth from his home in eastern India early on the morning of Dec. 13, 2008, he assumed they only wanted to question him over minor political activity in his capacity as a member of the local village council.

Except for two brief releases on bail, he would spend the next nearly 10 and a half years in jail for the murder of a Hindu leader that Hindu nationalists falsely accused him and six other Christians of committing.

At the police station that December day in 2008, the officers put Chalanseth in a police van and drove off. When he did not return after a few days, his family asked after him. They were told that the had been taken to the jungle along with Christian suspects Bijay Kumar Sanseth, Bhaskar Sunamajhi, and Budhadeb Nayak.

Later they heard that he and six other Christians had been charged with the murder of Laxmanananda Saraswati. The Hindu leader’s Aug. 23, 2008 murder by a mob of 30 to 40 assailants with automatic weapons and locally-made revolvers led to a misguided backlash in the following months – India’s largest anti-Christian violence. More than 100 people were killed, around 300 church buildings were destroyed, close to 6,000 homes were demolished and at least 55,000 Christians were displaced from their homes.

Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda claimed responsibility of the murder that occurred in the attack on Saraswati’s ashram in Jalespeta, Tumudibandha, Kandhamal District, Odisha (then Orissa) state, and the state government corroborated his confession. But Hindu extremists who blamed Christians marched Saraswati’s body in a 160-kilometer (100 miles) route along predominantly Christian areas calculated to provoke violence. An estimated 75 percent of the anti-Christian aggression that followed took place along the procession route.

Chalanseth and the six other Christians – Sanseth, Nayak, Bhaskar Sunamajhi, Durjo Sunamajhi, Sanatan Badamajhi and Munda Badamajhi – were convicted of murder, criminal conspiracy, unlawful assembly and rioting by Additional District and Sessions Judge Rajendra Kumar Tosh on Sept. 30, 2013. Two prior judges presiding over the trial were transferred before Tosh heard the case and delivered the verdict.

Ten years, five months and six days after he was taken into custody, Chalanseth walked out of prison on May 21, again released on bail. This time, however, because the Supreme Court issued the release on bail, he does not have to return unless the high court itself so orders.

“The Supreme Court ordering bail for Gornath has exposed the Hindu nationalist fraud behind Kandhamal,” journalist and activist Anto Akkara, who has publicized the injustice against the Christians in books and other media, told Morning Star News. “The bail order proves that Swami Laxmanananda’s murder was used to trigger the bloodshed and [the accusation against Christians] was cooked up by the Hindu nationalists for political gain.”

Akkara has kept the campaign for the release of the “innocent seven” alive through an online petition, www.release7innocents.com.

He noted that one of the seven, Munda Badamajhi, is a mentally challenged person.

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SOURCE: Christian Headlines; Morning Star News