India's top court bails out second Christian jailed over death of Hindu swami

Seven Christians in 2008 were jailed over the death of Laxmanananda Saraswati, but supporters say they were framed
India's top court bails out second Christian jailed over death of Hindu swami

The seven people jailed for the murder of Hindu spiritual leader Laxmanananda Saraswati and four of his associates in Odisha on Aug. 23, 2008. Two of the men — Chalenseth and Sanaseth — have been released on bail. (Supplied by Anto Akkara)

India's Supreme Court has ordered the granting of bail to the second of seven Christians convicted over the murder of a Hindu swami 11 years ago.

The killing triggered anti-Christian riots.

Bijaya Kumar Sanaseth is expected to be released on bail this weekend from the Phulbani district jail in eastern Odisha state following the July 22 court order based on the length of time he had already served behind bars.

Hindu spiritual leader Laxmanananda Saraswati and four of his associates were shot dead on Aug. 23, 2008, in the Kandhamal district of the state.

Police arrested seven Christian villagers, six of them illiterate, and a district court sentenced them to life imprisonment.

The first to be bailed was Gornath Chalenseth from Phulbani on May 9 following another Supreme Court order.

The murder of Swami Saraswati resulted in the slaughter, during rioting, of about 100 Christians and the burning down of hundreds of homes, convents, and churches.

Several women, including a Catholic nun, were raped.

Activist Anto Akkara, who has been campaigning for the group, referred to them as the "seven innocent Christians."

He and some others maintain that militant Hindu groups engineered the murder of the Hindu swami as part of a conspiracy to spur anti-Christian strife.

The Supreme Court has now sought a state government response to pending bail applications by the five who remain in prison — Bhaskar Sunamajhi, Buddhadev Nayak, Durjo Sunamajhi, Munda Badamajhi and Sanatan Badamajhi.

Father Dibakar Parichha, a priest and lawyer who has been assisting the jailed men, said the Church expects the other bail applications to be granted "sooner rather than later".

He complained that appeal applications had been unfairly and systematically delayed "to keep these poor men in jail".

Successive state governments had failed to intervene, the priest said, possibly because they feared a political backlash in the Hindu-majority state.

Archbishop John Barwa of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar, whose archdiocese covers the riot-hit Kandhamal area, told that achieving bail for the two men so far was only a pyrrhic victory as the group of seven languished in jail for more than 10 years even though they were not really guilty of the crime for which they were convicted.

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"We can rejoice, but the war is still on to bring back the other five," the archbishop said. "Justice delayed indeed is justice denied."

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