Kandhamal Riots: SC Grants Bail to Five in Saraswati Murder Case

Activists have argued that the seven convicted persons were falsely implicated in the murder case that had triggered communal riots in 2008.

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered bail for five convicted persons in the case involving Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati’s murder that triggered Odisha’s Kandhamal communal riots in 2008. Of the seven who were sentenced to life imprisonment by the high court in October 2013, two had already been granted bail in July 2019.

Activists have been arguing that the seven were falsely implicated in the case. These groups had appealed in the apex court against the high court’s decisions. They claimed that the seven people – all belonging to the Christian faith – were convicted on the basis of one “Beticola resolution” that was proven to be false.

The resolution, according to the Hindutva groups, was passed by the local church and had called for the elimination of Saraswati. However, the church groups have categorically denied having passed any such resolution.

Anto Akkara, a senior journalist, who has followed the riots and the murder case since 2008, hailed the SC order. “This is a big victory for truth and justice for Kandhamal. All the seven convicted people were innocents,” he told The Wire, adding that the Hindutva groups and the Odisha police have been falsely peddling the theory of a “Christian conspiracy” against Saraswati.

Also read: We Must Not Forget Kandhamal, a Wound That Is Yet to Heal

Akkara has written a book titled Who Killed Swami Laxmanananda and also produced a documentary elaborating on how all the seven convicted people were falsely arrested.

He said that ever since the investigation began, the police appeared to be biased against the Christian community. Elaborating on the sequence of events, he said on the night Saraswati was killed, his bodyguards went conspicuously missing. “Then, four Christians, including one 13-year-old boy, were brought to the police station by Vishwa Hindu Parishad activists. VHP leader Praveen Togadia even went on to announce their names as murderers of Saraswati even before the police did so.”

Upon finding no evidence against them, the four were released after being kept under police detention for 40 days. It was then the police picked up the seven who were convicted eventually.

Akkara claimed that all seven – Bhaskar Sunamajhi, Buddhadeb Nayak, Durjo Sunamajhi, Munda Badamajhi, Sanathan Badamajhi, Bijaya Kumar Sanseth and  Gornath Chalanseth –  were randomly arrested from the Kotagarh jungle in two batches without a shred of evidence.

Also read: 10 Years of Kandhamal Riots: ‘7 Innocents Have Been Convicted’

On November 26, the SC, following its previous bail order of the two, granted bail to the rest on the ground that their bail applications had been postponed several times by the registrar’s office. Akkara said that the registrar office did not give any reason as to why it was postponing their applications and that it appeared to be a deliberate sabotage of the justice process.

He said that on the basis of their arrest, the VHP claimed that Saraswati’s murder was a “Christian conspiracy” and that led to “weeks of unabated violence that left many Christians dead and at least 56,000 homeless”.

“Around 300 churches and 6,000 Christian houses plundered and torched,” he said.

The journalist has also been anchoring an online signature campaign with the website www.release7innocents.com since March 2016 for the release of the seven persons.

Also read: Kandhamal Riots: SC Grants Bail to Two of Seven Convicted in Swami Saraswati Murder

“The war is far from over. It’s only bail and that too, after 11 years. Now the focus must be on the Odisha high court where the appeals of the innocents against their questionable conviction have been dragging on for six years. The innocents must be acquitted,” pointed out Akkara.

“Only an independent inquiry can be held into the political conspiracy behind the Kandhamal fraud that led to the murder of 81-year old Swami Laxmanananda. This will pave way to identify and punish the real culprits and compensate the innocents for ruining their lives,” Akkara said.