Second Kandhamal accused released on bail

On 23 July the Supreme Court of India granted bail to Bijaya Sanaseth, one of the seven Christians accused of the murder of Swami Laxmananda Saraswati on 23 August 2008. The murder sparked the most severe outbreak of anti-Christian violence in the country’s history.

Mr Sanaseth spent over ten years in prison, and is the second of the accused Christians to be released after Garanath Challanseth, who was released on bail on 21 May. The remaining five who are still in jail are Bhaskar Sunamajhi, Buddhadev Nayak, Durjo Sunamajhi, Sanatan Badamajhl and Munda Badamajhl.

Despite media reports that the killing of Swami Saraswati was a result of Maoist involvement, the Sangh Parivar accused the Christians of perpetrating the murder. Widespread violence against the Christianity ensued, which resulted in the death of over 90 people, 600 villages being ransacked, over 5,600 houses looted and an estimated 54,000 individuals left homeless.

John Dayal, a civil rights activist and writer, said: “Any freedom loving human will rejoice that this man can breathe free after more than ten years of unjust incarceration. Five others remain in jail, denied this right under the law. We are with them in solidarity. But it needs be remembered that the two [Bijaya Sanaseth and Garanath Challanseth] are out on bail. The High Court must hear the appeals and throw out the shameful ruling of the lower court, which reeks of religious bigotry.”

CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: “The release of Mr. Sanaseth is a welcome development. We urge the judiciary to expedite the cases of the five remaining accused and see to it that the real perpetrators of the crimes which took place in Kandhamal are held to account. There remains a need for the authorities to ensure legal reforms to address the given the impunity that surrounds mass crimes perpetrated in India on the grounds of religion or belief.”