Reasonable Doubt

The questionable convictions in the case of Swami Lakshmanananda’s murder

01 October 2017
The murder of the Hindu preacher Swami Lakshmanananda in August 2008 was followed by the worst targeted violence that Odisha has seen, in which, according to humanrights activists, around a hundred people were killed. Most of the victims were Christians.

THE JAIL IN THE TOWN of Baliguda, in Odisha’s Kandhamal district, houses around 85 prisoners, both convicts and undertrials. To meet any of these inmates, visitors have to fill in a form and hand it to a jail official through a window in the prison’s imposing brownish-red iron door.

In July, I visited the jail to meet Duryodhan Sunamajhi, one of its most high-profile inmates. Entering the prison’s main gate, I walked past a few goats grazing near the entrance of a small Hindu shrine, whose walls were newly painted a bright brick red. I was accompanying Jirimiya, Duryodhan’s nephew, who filled the form with his, his father’s and his uncle’s names, and the name of his village. He handed the form to a jail official, who disappeared inside with it. We moved to an adjoining wall, and waited at another window.

After around five minutes, Duryodhan emerged from the interior of the jail and stood by the window: a tall, lean man in his mid forties. He had a trim black moustache and his forehead was lined with wrinkles that appeared deeper because of the shadows cast by the CFL bulb that lit the room. He wore a crisply ironed white shirt.

Rahul M  is an independent journalist and a 2017 People's Archive of Rural India fellow based in Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh.

Keywords: crime murder Maoist Christians Naveen Patnaik 2008 Kandhamal violence Odisha Swami Lakshmanananda Pravin Togadia