Manoj Pradhan, a member of the Hindu nationalist party and parliamentarian in Orissa, was acquitted of the murder of Kantheswar Digal, a 60-year-old Catholic from the village of Sankarakhole. During the trial eyewitnesses confirmed the allegations and Pradahn’s responsibility. The bishop of Bhubaneshwar, asks for trials to be transferred out of Orissa.
Bhubaneshwar (AsiaNews) - A member of the Hindu nationalist party, charged with the murder of a Christian in Orissa, has been acquitted because of lack of evidence. Manoj Pradhan, member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was accused of having helped to kill Kantheswar Digal, a 60-year-old Catholic from the village of Sankarakhole.
It is the latest in a series of acquittals obtained by the Hindu parliamentary party in Orissa, accused in several trials of being behind the anti-Christian pogrom of 2008. Pradhan was jailed last October, but this did not prevent the BJP candidate from being elected to the State Assembly in April. Pradhan’s judicial case is a political one and the chain of acquittals are being seen by most people as yet another sign of weakness of the justice system before the most extreme fringe of militant Hinduism.
Interviewed by AsiaNews, Mgr. Raphael Cheenath, Bishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar, said that the acquittal confirms "the lack of good will to help the victims and to establish justice." The prelate calls for "reflection on the situation of the judiciary" and invites the "moving of trials to courts outside Orissa”.
The ruling came on the first anniversary of the disappearance of Kantheswar Digal. The 60-year-old Catholic from Sankarakhole had managed to flee to Bhubaneshwar, with his wife and the only son, after the first attacks against Christians. Concerned about the fate of his house, shop and small flock of goats, the work of a lifetime, he returned to the village in September. Family members report that he had no intention of staying in Sankarakhole because the situation was very tense, but as he was preparing to return to the capital of Orissa he ran into a group of Hindu extremists.
On September 24 Kantheswar was aboard a public bus when the fundamentalists, led by Pradhan, blocked the vehicle and kidnapped the 60 year-old dragging him with them into the forest. All under the eyes of many people in local rush hour traffic. Rajendra, the 28 year old son of Kantheswar, on discovering his father's disappearance immediately reported it to police. But the young man says: "The police were not interested in the case. After 12 days his body was found 40 kilometers from our village, naked, his face scarred with acid and his sexual organ cut off".
The news of Manoj Pradhan's absolution has left Kantheswar's family and members of the Christian community of Sankarakhole without words. The prosecution is appealing, but his son Rajendra has little hope. During the trial witnesses described the scene of the kidnapping and confirmed the presence of Pradahn. But their evidence failed to convince the Court to condemn the BJP politician.
(with the collaboration of Nirmala Carvalho)