PHULBANI, ODISHA: Gornath Chalanseth, one of the seven innocent Christians languishing in jail for a decade in Kandhamal district of Odisha walked to freedom May 20 on the bail granted by the Supreme Court.

“My joy has no words,” said Chalanseth who received an emotional welcome at the iron gate of the district jail in Phulbani (headquarters of Kandhamal district) where over two dozen members of his family had gathered for hours impatiently since morning.

“This is the happiest day of my life,” said Rutha, Gornath’s wife as she waited for her husband’s release clutching a bouquet of flowers in her hands.

All the four children of Gornath including his married daughter Santilatha had joined his three brothers, sister and step mother who had undertaken five hour journey from Kotagarh area to be at the jail to welcome Gornath as he stepped into freedom - on the May 9 order from the Supreme Court on the plea by the legal team of New Delhi-based ADF (Alliance Defending Freedom).

“The only one missing here is our grandfather – 90 year old Bachan Chalanseth. He is too old to make this long journey,” explained Nithaniel Chalanseth, eldest of his three sons, who had been running around to get the bail order executed.

Gornath along with six others: Bhaskar Sunamajhi, Bijay Sanseth, Buddhadev Nayak, Durjo Sunamajhi, Sanatan Badamajhi and mentally challenged Munda Badamajhi had been convicted to life imprisonment by a third judge in 2013.

The shocking conviction came after two judges had been transferred, for the murder of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati in Kandhamal on August 23 2008. The murder of the Hindu religious leader in Kandhamal triggered unprecedented violence that lasted four months and claimed nearly 100 lives and rendered more than 56,000 homeless.

Despite being excited over his freedom from captivity of a decade, Gornath told journalist author Anto Akkara who was there to witness the occasion with a twinge of sadness: “I am happy with my freedom but there are other innocents in jail. Six of Kandhamal’s innocents are also in jail.”

Journalist Akkara has been spearheading since March 2016 an online signature campaign for the release of the seven innocents of Kandhamal with