01/05/2016, 00.00
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Orissa pogroms: Catholics in prayer ahead of final hearing for 7 innocent Christians

by Nirmala Carvalho
The seven Christians were accused without proof of murdering guru Laxamananda Saraswati. They have been held for seven years, even though Maoist rebels have always claimed the murder. A profile of the seven accused. New episodes of tension in Kandhamal district. In Barkhama, Christians stopped from celebrating Christmas.

Bhubaneswar (AsiaNews) - The final hearing of the trial of the seven Christians begins tomorrow, sentenced to life imprisonment – without any evidence - for the murder of the Hindu leader Laxamananda Saraswati, whose death sparked violent anti-Christian pogrom of 2008 in Orissa . Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), has launched an appeal: "We ask everyone to pray for the seven innocent Christians".

Tomorrow the court of Phulbani will decide the fate of the seven men, who were accused on the back of two witness statements, later recanted. At first the two accusers said they had seen the suspects gathered in a forest and "conspiring against the Hindu leader." But they later dropped the charges.

These Christians have been awaiting judgment for seven years, after a series of postponements and sham trials. "They are languishing in prison - says Sajan K George - despite the fact that Maoists have twice claimed responsibility for the murder of the swami Laxamananda and his four followers".

To raise awareness about the plight of these seven Christians, their families have shared some information about them with AsiaNews:

Bijay Kr Sunseth, son of Salai Sunseth. Originally from Madhuguda (Kotagad). He and his wife Pabitra have six children, two sons (15 and 9) and four daughters (14, 10, 7 and 5). Because of the situation, the eldest has not been able to complete his mid-term exams. The children live in hostels paid by benefactors. The family belongs to the Baptist Church (Kandhamal Union). According the wife, Bijay was a community leader. On 13 December 2008, police summoned him to the station where he was arrested and taken to Rayagada. They claimed they captured him in the jungle.

Gornath Chalanseth, son of Bachan Chalanseth. Originally from Sartuli (Kotagad). He and his wife Ruta have an older married daughter and three sons. The oldest lives in Berhampur, where he is studying engineering and works part-time to support himself. The youngest are 12 and 9. According to his wife and brother Banga, police summoned Gornath for the first time in December 2008, and then sent him home. On the 13th of the month, they arrested him along with Bijay. In his case, they also claimed that they had captured him in the jungle.

Budhadeb Nayak, son of Muga Nayak. Originally from Kilangi (Kotagad). He and his wife Nilandri have three sons and two daughters. The two eldest sons are married, and one is Protestant clergyman in Chhattisgarh. The third is 7. His daughters are 8 and 7. According to his wife, police took him away in the middle of the night when he was asleep.

Bhaskar Sunamajhi, son of Budui Sunamajhi. Originally from Kutiguda (Kotagad). He and his wife Debaki have a son, 6, who does not go to school yet. Bhaskar was a village guard (working with police). Some 10 to 12 days before Christmas 2008, he was playing cards with friends when police told him to take money and clothing and go with them. Having done this before, Bhaskar had no qualms about doing it again. This time however, police took him away and charged him with murder.

Durjo Sunamajhi, son of Asin Sunamajhi. Originally from Budapada (Kotagad). He and his wife Gumili have three sons and due daughters. His older sons work whilst the 8-year-old goes to school. His daughters are 12 and 3 (the youngest one does not go to school yet). In October 2008, police stormed his home at night and took him away.

Munda Badmajhi, son of Dhanura Badmajhi. Originally from Duringpodi (Kotagad). He and his wife Bamdiguali have due sons and due daughters. The eldest son, 10, was in grade 4 when his father was arrested. He had to leave school to go to work. The youngest son is now 7 and a Christian clergyman is paying for his school fee. As in Durjo's case, in October 2008 police took Munda away in the middle of the night. His wife tried to give a shawl but was turned away.

Sanatan Badmajhi, son of BaldoBadmajhi. Originally from Madaguda (Kotagad). He and his wife Badusi have two sons and two daughters. The eldest daughter is 11 and attends a government school, followed by the two boys, 7 and 5, and a sister, 8. Police arrested him in Sanatan on 4 October 2008, and took him away when he was asleep.

Meanwhile, while waiting for the last hearing, some villages of the state report that they are living in fear of a possible repeat of the 2008sectarian violence. The Hindu group Kui Samaj Samanwaya Samity (KSSS), affiliate of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) and the RSS (Rastriya Sevaka Sangh), has called a general strike [in local language "bandh" - Ed] in the days of the Christmas celebrations. The strike blocked transport, preventing Christians from some remote villages from reaching the local churches, and closed down shops.

The most serious incident, however, as reported to AsiaNews by Fr. Ajay Singh, director of the Forum for Social Action of the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, took place in the village of Barkhama. "While the national newspapers - he says - advertise a situation of peace in Orissa during the Christmas period, they all ignored the threats that Christians suffered in Barkhama".

The Catholic leader reveals that on the morning of December 25, the faithful found the village roads blocked by uprooted trees and heavy boulders.

The authors of the act were over 1000 Hindu radicals, who prevented Christians from going to church to celebrate Christmas. Fr. Singh says: "Christians have filed a complaint but the police refused to register the case. They also sent a memorandum to Naveen Patnaik, chief minister of the state. Now they live in fear and insecurity".

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