By Matters India Reporter
Bangalore: A prayer campaign for the release of seven Christian convicts of Kandhamal languishing in jail for nine years in the eastern state of Odisha was on February 8 introduced at the biennial assembly of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India.
Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, the outgoing president of conference, led the ‘Prayer for Kandhamal’s Seven Innocents’ that bishops from all 174 dioceses of India recited.
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.
Akkara explained to the assembly that the seven Christians are languishing in jail because of an alleged fraud by radical groups. Six of the convicted are illiterates, including a mentally challenged.
Akkara said the radical groups meticulously prepared a ‘Christian conspiracy’ theory even before the 81-year old Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati was shot dead in his ashram in Kandhamal on August 23, 2008, when Hindus celebrated the birthday of Lord Krishna.
“It was not police, but VHP leader Pravin Togadia who announced the names of ‘Christian killers,’ Akkara alleged. He said the Hindu radicals then thrashed and dumped the accused Christians in police station. Togadia was then the president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (world council of Hindus).
“Then police arrested these seven Christians from the remote Kotagarh jungles,” noted Akkara. They were arrested in two batches in October and December 2008.
After scrutinizing the verdict that sentenced the seven to life imprisonment in 2013, Akkara visited their homes in remote jungle homes. Even their Hindu neighbors vouched for the innocence of the Christian, he told the bishops.
Akkara brought the wives of the seven to New Delhi in March 2016 to launch an online signature campaign www.release7innocents.com.
Subsequently, the Kandhamal conspiracy was exposed in May 2016 through an investigative book ‘Who Killed Swami Laxmanananda?’ written by Akkara.
“I urge the CBCI to use this prayer across the country. Nobody can stop us from praying,” Akkara told the bishops.
The prayer card ends with a 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 explained.