Christian gets bail 10 years after jailed for Kandhamal murder

Seven Christians in 2008 were jailed over the death of Laxmanananda Saraswati, but supporters say they were framed.

The seven people jailed for the murder of Hindu spiritual leader Laxmanananda Saraswati and four of his associates in Odisha on Aug. 23, 2008. Two of the men — Chalenseth and Sanaseth — have been released on bail. (Supplied by Anto Akkara)

 

New Delhi: India’s Supreme Court has ordered the granting of bail to the second of seven Christians convicted over the murder of a Hindu swami 11 years ago.

The killing triggered anti-Christian riots.

Bijaya Kumar Sanaseth has been released on bail July 27 from the Phulbani district jail in eastern Odisha state following the July 22 court order based on the length of time he had already served behind bars.

Hindu spiritual leader Laxmanananda Saraswati and four of his associates were shot dead on Aug. 23, 2008, in the Kandhamal district of the state.

Police arrested seven Christian villagers, six of them illiterate, and a district court sentenced them to life imprisonment.

The first to be bailed was Gornath Chalenseth from Phulbani on May 9 following another Supreme Court order.

The murder of Swami Saraswati resulted in the slaughter, during the rioting, of about 100 Christians and the burning down of hundreds of homes, convents, and churches.

Several women, including a Catholic nun, were raped.

Activist Anto Akkara, who has been campaigning for the group, referred to them as the “seven innocent Christians.”

He and some others maintain that militant Hindu groups engineered the murder of the Hindu swami as part of a conspiracy to spur anti-Christian strife.

The Supreme Court has now sought a state government response to pending bail applications by the five who remain in prison — Bhaskar Sunamajhi, Buddhadev Nayak, Durjo Sunamajhi, Munda Badamajhi and Sanatan Badamajhi.

Father Dibakar Parichha, a priest and lawyer who has been assisting the jailed men, said the Church expects the other bail applications to be granted “sooner rather than later”.

He complained that appeal applications had been unfairly and systematically delayed “to keep these poor men in jail”.

Successive state governments had failed to intervene, the priest said, possibly because they feared a political backlash in the Hindu-majority state.

Archbishop John Barwa of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar, whose archdiocese covers the riot-hit Kandhamal area, told ucanews.com that achieving bail for the two men so far was only a pyrrhic victory as the group of seven languished in jail for more than 10 years even though they were not really guilty of the crime for which they were convicted.

“We can rejoice, but the war is still on to bring back the other five,” the archbishop said. “Justice delayed indeed is justice denied.”

Source: UCAN

Concern grows as Mother Teresa nun remains in Indian jail

Those accused of terrorism and bomb explosions are out on bail and sit inside parliament, but “an innocent nun is jailed based on an allegation.”

Political influence and sectarian hate suspected over repeated refusal of bail for 62-year-old sister.

A Missionaries of Charity nun receives a National Commission for Protection of Child Rights delegation that visited a home run by the congregation in Ranchi on July 24, 2018, as part of a probe following allegations of child trafficking. (IANS photo)

 

New Delhi: Church activists suspect political interference and sectarian hate in the continued incarceration of a Missionaries of Charity nun who was arrested a year ago accused of child trafficking in eastern India’s Jharkhand state.

Sister Concelia Baxla filed a fresh bail application in the state’s High Court on July 12. Her bail was rejected by several courts including India’s Supreme Court early this year.

The nun, now 62 and a diabetic, was arrested on July 4 last year along with Anima Indwar, a staff member of the home for unwed mothers that the Missionaries Charity managed in state capital Ranchi.

The arrest followed a complaint that Indwar took money to provide a baby but failed to keep the promise. They were accused of having already sold three babies from the home.

The Supreme Court rejected her bail application on Jan. 29 on grounds that police had not yet completed the investigation of the case.

The nun was initially remanded for 14 days and was expected to get bail on July 20 last year, but was denied by the district court. Later, the state court denied her bail on Oct. 30 before the top court’s denial early this year.

“I feel there is some strong element of political pressure in the case. Otherwise, the court has always granted bail in such cases,” said A.C. Michael, a Christian leader and former member of the Delhi Minorities Commission.

Michael said police in the state, run by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have already completed the investigation and charges are filed in the court.

“One wonders what stops the court from granting bail,” said Michael, adding that church people expect the nun to get bail when the fresh bail application is heard this month.

However, Jenis Francis, a Christian activist and lawyer, suggested sectarian hate was keeping the nun in the jail. “A person is innocent until proven guilty. Why the nun continues to languish in person is beyond one’s reach of reason,” Jenis said.

The police delay in filing the charges for more than six months was a reflection of how the state and its law enforcement agencies worked in tandem to fulfill the agenda of Hindu groups, the lawyer-activist said.

“The prejudice against Mother Teresa is deeply rooted in the minds of Hindu fanatics. The name of Mother Teresa is deliberately being dragged into the case to defame her name and the work of her nuns among the poor,” Jenis told ucaews.com.

St. Teresa of Kolkata, popularly known as Mother Teresa, founded the Missionaries of Charity in 1950 to work among the poorest people in the slums of Kolkata city. It grew to become a global organization with about 5,000 members working in 139 countries. It has 244 homes in India.

However, right-wing Hindu groups have opposed the work of Mother Teresa and her nuns, accusing them of working to convert poor Hindus to Christianity in the guise of social service.

For example, Yogi Adityanath, a BJP leader and chief minister of India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, has in a public speech said that the saintly nun was part of a conspiracy to Christianize India.

“The witch-hunting of Mother Teresa sisters” could be a way of gaining global attention, according to Joseph Dias, a Christian leader based in Mumbai.

“On the one hand, Christians are targeted with impunity and on the other hand, in order to gain world attention, nuns of Mother Teresa are targeted,” said Joseph.

Those accused of terrorism and bomb explosions are out on bail and sit inside parliament, but “an innocent nun is jailed based on an allegation.”

Joseph was referring to Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, who won recent parliamentary polls on the BJP’s ticket. She is accused of terrorist activities linked to a deadly bomb blast targeting Muslims in 2008. She is currently free on bail.

Adil Ahmad, a social and rights activist based in New Delhi, said the norm is for courts to grant bail. “However, in this case, Sister Concelia is treated exceptionally because of her Catholic faith. She is guilty for the establishment until proven innocent; while for others it is the other way around,” Ahmed said.

Source: UCAN

Catholic politicians strengthen pro-Hindu party in Goa

Members of the Congress party who switched to the ruling BJP have been branded turncoats and opportunists.

Panaji: Eight Catholic politicians were among 10 legislators in India’s Goa state who deserted the opposition Congress party to join the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The July 10 defections boosted the pro-Hindu party’s hold on power in the 40-seat state legislature by giving it 27 seats in all.

The opposition Congress, which won 17 seats in 2017 elections, was thereby reduced to five seats. Two of them had earlier also joined the BJP.

“This is a crisis not for Congress but for Goa as the Congress legislators have broken the trust that the voters reposed in them and joined the BJP,” said Father Victor Ferrao, a seminary teacher. “Sometimes principles are dumped for pragmatism. Today politics kills democracy in the very name of democracy.”

Catholics play a crucial political role in the state, a former Portuguese colony on India’s west coast. Some 25 percent of its 1.4 million people are Christians, almost all of them Catholics.

The defecting legislators told media that the switch was to ensure there are development projects for their local areas such as improved roads and water supplies.

Father Eremito Rebelo, a social activist, admitted that jobs and welfare programs were being “dished out” predominantly to constituents from the ruling party. The constituencies of Congress legislators were being ignored, he complained.

However, he questioned the logic of changing their party allegiance for this reason alone. The former Congress members should have instead fought against “political favoritism” as opposition members of Goa’s legislature. After all, tax was collected from everyone, irrespective of their party loyalties, Father Rebelo said.

“If they were Christians by faith, they would not have done this,” the priest added. “It shows the shallowness of the Christian values within them.”

The BJP won only 15 seats in the house against 17 for Congress. Yet the BJP in a post-poll alliance joined with a local party with three seats as well as with three independent candidates to form government with a 21-seat simple majority.

“We need another political system,” said parishioner Shirley Peres. “Now, even if you elect a non-BJP member, the BJP makes him their own.”

However, political observers say the move will not augur well for the BJP because it has upset original BJP legislative members aspiring to rise through the ranks to obtain ministerial positions.

BJP leaders indicated there will be a reshuffle in the state cabinet to offer ministerial roles to some of the newcomers, something that could anger sitting ministers who consequently lose their jobs.

An anti-defection law allows for mergers if two-thirds of the elected members of a party join with another party.

Source: UCAN

http://india.ucanews.com/news/catholic-politicians-strengthen-prohindu-party-in-goa/40794/daily

 

Church land probe sparks anger in Jharkhand

Christians in Jharkhand say they are being targeted for protests against proposed changes to laws protecting tribal domains.

 

Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das speaks to IANS media agency in Ranchi on Sept. 16. He accused Christian missioners of working to sabotage development work in the state. (Photo by IANS)

Bhopal: Christians in India’s Jharkhand state have claimed that a government plan to probe church land holdings amounts to persecution.

The state government is controlled by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which also rules nationally and has been accused of having an anti-Christian agenda.

“This is surely a vindictive action,” Kuldeep Tirkey, leader of the ecumenical Christian Youth Association, told ucanews.com. “It is the latest in a series of such probes and actions taken deliberately to target minority Christians.”

Tirkey said that since early July state chief minister Raghubar Das has been talking publicly about the need for a probe to determine whether or not church groups legally own all the land they are occupying.

At issue is the implications of two state laws called the Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act of 1908 and the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act of 1949 that prohibit outsiders buying traditional tribal land.

Most of the state’s 1.5 million Christians are tribal people and many Christian institutions and parish churches stand on land said to have been donated by them.

If an investigation showed that some church-occupied lands were actually sold by tribal people to non-tribal missionaries, the state could initiate a legal proceeding, church sources said.

Father Anand David Xalxo, the spokesman for the archdiocese covering state capital Ranchi, said the Church had not received any official communications from the government about the investigation. “We have been hearing about such a probe from media,” the priest said.

If and when there is an official notification of the government’s intentions, church officials would respond, he added.

Christian leaders see the threat as part of what they regard as a vendetta.

A year ago, church groups led tribal protests that forced the withdrawal of proposed legislative amendments that critics said would have made it easier for the state government and commercial interests to deprive tribal people of ancestral land.

Some 26 percent of the state’s 32 million people come from indigenous groups.

In July last year, the state ordered a probe into whether 88 Christian non-government organizations were involved in illegal proselytization through the offering of inducements to would-be converts.

In April this year, the government recommended a federal probe into 31 of these 88 organizations to see if they used overseas funds for conversion activities.

Tribal leader and Christian Albin Lakra said the state government was misusing its powers to target minority Christians in order to gain the political support of Hindu nationalists.

Lakra said Christian missionaries worked tirelessly to assist impoverished tribal communities, not least through the provision of educational and health care facilities. “Now they are being persecuted by the government for their work to help tribal people assert their rights,” he said.

Lakra said Christian groups would fight against arbitrary decisions of the state. “If its motive is genuinely to help tribal people, it should probe all properties owned by religious communities and business establishments,” he said.

Source: UCAN

Indian Church seeks monsoon precautions

Weather warnings and mandatory building inspections could help save lives.

Rescue personnel where the wall of a school in Mumbai, India, collapsed on adjoining dwellings killing more than 21 people on July 2. (IANS photo)

New Delhi: The Catholic Church in India has sought pre-emptive government measures to combat future monsoon tragedies amid a loss of lives from storms in western Maharashtra state.

Some 50 people have died and many others were injured during torrential monsoon rains in the past week.

In a major mishap, the Tiware Dam in Ratnagiri district breached late July 3, flooding at least seven villages and washing away 12 houses with the confirmed loss of 20 lives.

Many more are feared to have died.

Local residents said the dam’s wall, that started overflowing the previous day, had already developed cracks.

In another incident, at least 21 people died in the early hours of July 2 when a wall collapsed on shanties in a western suburb of Mumbai, India’s business capital.

Bishop Joshua Mar Ignathios, vice president of Catholic bishops’ conference, said the tragedy was a wake-up call for the government to take precautions, especially as more heavy rains are expected.

“The government must take steps to safeguard lives,” the bishop told ucanews.com.

“The state has facilities to forecast weather and can take measures to avoid loss of lives.”

Retired auxiliary Bishop Agnelo Rufino Gracias of Bombay said both tragedies could have been avoided had government officials conducted mandatory inspections and taken other pre-emptive measures.

“The government ought to foresee the outcome of incessant rains that can continue for days,” Bishop Gracias said.

There was adequate technologies available to predict many natural calamities, he added.

Father Nigel Barrett, spokesperson for the Bombay Archdiocese termed the latest loss of lives as “tragic and sorrowful”.

The monsoon season witnessed a series of calamities during recent years in the nation of 1.2 billion people.

The monsoon begins when rains hit southern India in June, with rain clouds moving across the mainland throughout July and August.

During the 2017 monsoon, considered the worst since 2007, more than 1,000 people died and over 30 million were displaced by flooding.

It is estimated that 300,000 hectares of crops were destroyed in the deluges.

Incessant rains in August 2018 caused heavy landslides and flooding in southern Kerala, killing close to 500 people.

More than 800,000 families were rendered homeless when flash flood and landslides affected a dozen states, mostly in the nation’s east.

Drastic climate change in the country has been partly attributed to rapid urbanization and shrinking forest cover.

Source: UCAN

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