Christian Man Who Was Wrongfully Jailed for Nearly 12 Years Thanks God for Freedom but Laments the Years Lost with His Family

Journalist Anto Akkara with Bijaya Kumar Sanaseth (left) and Gornath Chalanseth. (Morning Star News)

When Bijaya Kumar Sanaseth went to jail for a murder in India that he did not commit more than 10 and a half years ago, his mother was still alive and his oldest child was 9 years old.

“I have not seen my children grow,” Sanaseth, the second Christian to be released on bail of the seven wrongly convicted of killing a Hindu extremist leader, told Morning Star News between sobs.  “My six children were very young, with my youngest child, a girl, being 1-year-old, and my oldest, a boy, was 9 years old. Today the youngest is 12 and my oldest is 20. Nobody can give me back the years that I have lost.”

Morning Star News reports Sanaseth and the six other Christians were convicted in September 2013 of the murder of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, whose death on Aug. 23, 2008 touched off anti-Christian attacks that killed 120 people, destroyed nearly 6,000 homes and displaced 55,000 Christians. Now 47, Sanaseth was released on bail on July 27, two months and six days after fellow convict Gornath Chalanseth was bailed out on May 21.

“I faced a lot of hardships in jail – I thank God for this freedom,” Sanaseth said. “I trusted God would bring me out one day.”

Because the Supreme Court issued the release on bail, he does not have to return unless the high court itself so orders.

After 30 to 40 assailants with automatic weapons and locally-made revolvers attacked Saraswati at his ashram in Jalespeta, Tumudibandha, in Orissa (now Odisha) state’s Kandhamal District, Sanaseth became a suspect after helping protecting Christian institutions from the resulting backlash, he said, according to Morning Star News.

A convent school near his home was under attack, and Catholic leaders called him to ask if he could intervene because of his good standing in the area, Sanaseth told Morning Star News.

“I stood at the gate of the convent even as the mob approached,” he said in Oriya through a translator. “They stopped when they saw me because they all knew me. Taking advantage of that, the [convent] father made the children go home safely while I called the police. By God’s help, I was able to save many people, and the violence in our area was considerably less because of the intervention. Many Christians were saved, houses, hostels as well as church buildings. I was also part of the peace committee that restored order after the violence.”

Because he was able to save so many, Hindu extremists later retaliated by listing his name among the suspected murderers, he said.

“I paid a huge cost for that,” Sanaseth told Morning Star News. “My mother died after I went to jail. The family could not take care of her, as there was no money with me being in jail.”

Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack and killing, and state officials corroborated his account, but radical Hindu elements blamed Christians for Saraswati’s death. Mobs led by Pravin Togadia, firebrand leader of the Hindu extremist Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), marched with Saraswati’s body 160 kilometers (90 miles) in the area inciting violence, including the burning of church buildings and Christian homes, sources said.

Sanaseth lived in Maduguda, many miles from the place where Saraswati was slain.

“The swami was murdered in a different block altogether – it is nowhere near to where I live, and I was in my hometown on the day of murder, with several people witnessing my presence,” Sanaseth said.

Morning Star News said Malati Pradhan and Kumudhini Pradhan, two girls about 11 and 14 years old at the time, went on record saying they saw Sanaseth and one of the other seven Christians arrested, Durjo Sunamajhi, outside Saraswati’s room at the time of the murder. A judge accepted their testimony, he said.

“People from Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati’s ashram who were produced in the court said that they do not know us or have never seen us near the ashram,” Sanaseth said. “After all the witnesses were over, Malati Pradhan was brought in. Even the ashram people said that Malati was not from their ashram. She was a fake witness who lived 80 kilometers (45 miles) away from the ashram.”

The judge told the public prosecutor that if Malati Pradhan were to be tried as a false witness, she would be behind bars, he added.

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SOURCE: Assist News