In a remote Indian village, a victory against persecution
If you were reading Catholic World News reports a decade ago, you should recall the ugly spate of anti-Christian violence that broke out in India’s Khandhamal region in 2008, killing over 100 people and driving more than 50,000 from their homes into the forests, where they sought safety. Many of these Christians are still living in refugee camps, their homes having been destroyed.
The violence began when a prominent Hindu-nationalist leader, Swami Lakshmanananda, was murdered. The crime was soon traced to a Maoist group, but militant Hindus nevertheless held Christians—all Christians—responsible. That’s when the anti-Christian pogrom began.
In keeping with the fiction that Christians had killed their leader, Hindu zealots orchestrated the conviction of seven illiterate Christians for the crime—in a stampeded trial, with virtually no evidence presented. Anto Akkara, the CWN correspondent who had provided our coverage of the violence, began a one-man crusade to secure their release. Many CWN readers signed a petition that Anto circulated internationally, urging India’s government leaders to investigate the plight of these poor innocent men—who lived behind bars for years, their pleas ignored by the local authorities in a state dominated by Hindu nationalists.
In 2013, Anto Akkara won the Titus Brandsma award for journalism by the International Christian Organization of the Media for this advocacy of the Kandhamal prisoners. But in November of this year he won the prize that he really wanted, when India’s highest court ordered the prisoners released.
Anto Akkara was in Kandhamal again this week, unraveling the red tape. (It took 10 days for the court’s release order to reach the remote district court—where local officials were still in no hurry to comply.) This week, at last, the unjustly accused Christians are free.
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