Bengaluru: The ongoing prayer campaign for the release of seven innocent Christian convicts of Kandhamal jungles of eastern state of Odisha – India, languishing in jail for nine years, was launched on February 8 at the 33rd biennial assembly of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI), attended by bishops from 174 dioceses.
Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, the outgoing CBCI president, led the ‘Prayer for Kandhamal’s Seven Innocents’ along with the bishops of India including Cardinal Oswald Gracias who was elected CBCI president at the Feb 2-9 assembly, Cardinal George Alencherry and Cardinal Telesphore Toppo.
Before launching the Prayer, Cardinal Cleemis thanked senior journalist Anto Akkara for his ‘wonderful work’ about Kandhamal and said the church was happy to join the Prayer campaign initiated by him.
With a powerful multi-media presentation to the CBCI assembly, Akkara who completed silver jubilee of his visit to Kandhamal in December illustrated why seven innocent Christians – six of them illiterates including one of them mentally challenged – are languishing in jail for nine years.
Akkara elaborated on the meticulous preparation that had been made to flout the ‘Christian conspiracy’ theory even before the murder of 81-year old Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati who was shot dead in his Ashram in Kandhamal on Janmastami night (August 23rd) 2008.
“It was not police, but VHP leader Pravin Togadia who announced the names of ‘Christian killers’ who had been thrashed and dumped in police stations. When the police could not frame them in the murder, they were asked to leave the police station 40 days later with an affidavit that ‘Due to fear, we had taken shelter in police station.”
“Then police arrested these seven Christians from the remote Kotagarh jungles,” noted Akkara pointing to the combined picture of the ‘Seven Innocents of Kandhamal’ languishing in jail since their arrest in two batches in October and December 2008.
After scrutinising the shocking verdict that sentenced the seven innocent Christians to life imprisonment in 2013, the author visited the remote jungle homes of the innocents where even Hindu neighbours vouched for the innocence of their Christian ’friends’ languishing in jail.
The journalist author secretly brought the illiterate wives of the seven innocent Christians of Kandhamal to New Delhi on March 2016 to launch an online signature campaign www.release7innocents.com in the presence of host of dignitaries.
Subsequently, the shocking Kandhamal conspiracy was laid bare in May 2016 with the investigative book ‘Who Killed Swami Laxmanananda?’ that was released by veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar, who has also written the Foreword to the book, along with the ‘first batch of killers’ of the Swami.
The revised edition of the book was released on December 28, 2017 in New Delhi by Kuldip Nayar along with D Raja (general secretary, CPI), Oscar Fernandes (MP, Congress party), Brinda Karat (politburo member, CPM) and John Dayal (United Christian Forum).
On January 4, the book was released in Bhubaneswar by 2016 Goldman prize (known as alternative Nobel prize for environmental action) winner, Prafulla Samantara who threw the gauntlet, ‘Is there anyone to challenge (findings of) this book?’ leading to big news stories in the Odia media exposing the Kandhamal fraud.
“I had organised several releases across the country including Malayalam translation of the book that as released by Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. At Bangalore release, with me at the podium were the slain Gauri Lankesh and Jesuit Father Ambrose Pinto (who died on January 2),” the author pointed out.
“Despite all these efforts, the campaign for the innocents did not gather steam and so, I resorted to the Prayer campaign. I was provoked by priests of Ernakulam archdiocese to pen the Prayer at a Kandhamal presentation,” the journalist author recounted.
“The Prayer was launched in Kochi (on October 15) and is working miracles now. Lot of dramatic changes have taken place since it has been launched in English, Malayalam, Hindi, Odia and Tamil. Two of the innocents got Christmas parole after the Prayer in Odia was launched with the illiterate wives of the seven innocents on December 10 in Kandhamal,” narrated Akkara who has authored five investigative books on Kandhamal since 2009.
“I urge the CBCI to use this Prayer across the country. Nobody can stop us from praying,” emphasised the author reminding the bishops that the Prayer card ends with web link to the online petition that generates three instant emails for the release of the innocents to the Chief Justice of India, President of India and the National Human Rights Commission. “Faith must lead to action,” Akkara urged.
This was followed by Cardinal Cleemis thanking the author for the initiative and leading the Prayer for the innocents with all the bishops standing with the Prayer card in hands and reciting the Prayer in unison.
After the Prayer, CBCI bishop secretary general Theodore Masceranhas draped the journalist author with a shawl as a token of honour from the CBCI.