Release of Imprisoned Christian in India Offers Hope for Justice for Those Persecuted & Wrongfully Convicted

NEW DELHI, May 28, 2019 (Morning Star News) – 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.

NEW DELHI, May 28, 2019 (Morning Star News) – 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.

The conviction without evidence raised many questions. While the judge portrayed Saraswati as “a luminary of Hindu community who dedicated the whole life for the tribal community of this underdeveloped district of Orissa,” his judgment relied on the testimony of two witnesses, Malati Pradhan and Kumudhini Pradhan, who were about 11 and 14 years old when Saraswati was murdered. Both went on record to say that they saw Sanseth and Durjo Sunamajhi outside Saraswati’s room when the murder took place.

Delivering the verdict five years after the attack, the judge justified his confidence in the testimony of the girls by noting that they were students of Sanskrit.

“A student of Sanskrit requires high memory power to get the Sanskrit verses, slokas, etc. in mind,” he wrote. “Therefore, even if investigating officers have committed an error by not examining them at an appropriate time, this Court cannot refuse to accept their credibility.”

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Source: Christian Headlines