"Pen is mightier than Sword"
The finest definition of journalism, the journalist author believes, has come from Jesus the teacher who exhorted: “Bear witness to the truth” (Jn 18:37). Masterpieces of journalism, be they riveting articles, investigative reports or books, all tell the truth without fear or favour.
“Pen is mightier than Sword,” goes the adage. Annals of history is replete with stunning instances of truth bringing down the mighty despite their craftiness at perpetrating fraud.
As in other professions, journalism too has many black sheep. Sadly, scribes have turned mercenaries and merchants who barter truth for wealth and glory. While some even stoop to be informers for the oppressors to crush the victims, others exploit it for personal glory leaving the vulnerable at the mercy of the sharks.
Sublime journalism is not merely telling the truth or exposing the fraud. One is challenged to walk the extra mile and accompany the victims, depending on the situation to be a voice to the voiceless - come what may.
The journalist author has reported extensively from hotspots in South Asia on human rights concerns, religious issues and social problems, bringing unheard voices to attention even at the risk of his life. In 1999, he underwent the nightmare of three army tankers pointed at his van for seven hours while covering the civil war in Sri Lanka.
That did not deter the journalist from venturing to Sri Lanka repeatedly to cover the protracted war, massive earthquakes in Gujarat and Kashmir, 2004 tsunami devastation, oppression in Myanmar, and birth of democracy and devastating earthquake that struck Nepal in 2015. In the process, he was won a dozen national and international media awards.
Passion for Human Rights
Even after being selected for English lecturer’s post in 1990 at his alma mater – St Thomas College in Thrissur – his home town in southern Kerala state, Akkara decided to continue in the hotbed of journalism in New Delhi. Due to his passion for human rights, Akkara enrolled for a Degree in Law at the Delhi University in 1991 while pursuing journalism. Soon he came out with ‘Sometimes dead men tell tales’ – an investigative feature in The Times of India exposing a forgotten custodial death in Kerala.
The budding journalist did not stop with the feature that was published in all editions of the leading national daily. He visited several times the distraught elderly parents of Gopi - a Hindu young man brutally tortured in police custody at Cherthala in Kerala - and even took senior journalists to the family where the dead body had been preserved in a tanker demanding justice. The journalist accompanied the family in penury until they received a compensation order in 1997 for Rs 300,000 from the Kerala High Court, with the collaboration of Jananeethi (People's Justice).
The journalist author has to his credit several 'leader' articles for The Times of India and other media - like ‘Tribals are not museum pieces’, ‘Open prison called Myanmar’, ‘Lankan Landmine’ and ‘Fabric of Disaster’ on sensitive topics. His international investigative reports have been carried even in Washington Post and New York Times before he stumbled onto life-changing Kandhamal campaign.
Telling people’s stories has been the journalist’s hobby. This inspired him to take the profession to a higher pedestal and be a voice for the voiceless victims of the orchestrated anti-Christian violence in remote Kandhamal district in Odisha state in eastern India.
When the national media forgot the simmering anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal jungles from August 2008, it was Akkara who stirred the national conscience with his investigative book 'Kandhamal - a blot on Indian Secularism' after repeated arduous trips to the remote region.
Since veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar described the book as 'one of the must-read books' at its launch in New Delhi in April 2009, it was hailed by cross sections. During the Bangalore launch, Justice M F Saldana suggested that given the objectivity of the book, it should be treated as an 'official report' of the Kandhamal violence and the government should act on it. K G Kannabiran, president of People's Union for Civil Liberties, hailed the book as 'a charge-sheet on Kandhamal' during the launch in Hyderabad. Renowned litterateur Sukumar Azhikode recommended the book to be made a 'text book' at its release at the Kerala Sahitya Academy.
Given the impact the investigative book made, the author had a personal audience with P. Chidambaram, Home Minister of India. Chidambaram not only visited Kandhamal soon after receiving the book from the author, he even told Indian Parliament in July 2009 that what happened in Kandhamal was 'a blot on the face of Orissa' – quoting the title of the book.
After laying bare before the nation the 'true story' of Kandhamal as 'The Hindu' remarked, Akkara's second book on Kandhamal titled 'Shining Faith in Kandhamal' was released during the Catholic Mission Congress in Mumbai in October 2009.
Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil, Major Archbishop and president of Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) in his 'Foreword' to the book described it as 'A Book of Revelation'. "Shining Faith in Kandhamal reveals a true journalist who cannot remain a mute spectator in the face of inhuman atrocities. Love and responsibility for one's fellowmen finds expression in concern for the truth," pointed out Cardinal Vithayathil.
Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for Evangelisation of People’s of the Vatican who released ‘Early Christians of 21 Century - stories of incredible Christian witness from Kandhamal jungles’, in February 2013 remarked: ”The story of Kandhamal’s martyrs is continuing to inspire us.”
On the 5th Kandhamal anniversary in 2013, the journalist author brought out 'Kandhamal craves for Justice' drawing national attention to the travesty of justice. While Justice Ajit Prakash Shah, former chief justice of Delhi, acclaimed that "The book has a story to tell", The Tehelka magazine noted that in the book, the author "tells the horror and its aftermath"
Online Campaign for Kandhamal’s Innocents
In the pursuit of truth and justice for Kandhamal’s voiceless people, the journalist author unearthed clinching evidences that left little doubt as to why seven innocent Christians - six of them illiterates including a mentally challenged – were languishing in jail.
Bijay Kumar Sanseth, Bhaskar Sunamajhi, Buddhadeb Nayak, Durjo Sunamajhi, Gornath Chalanseth, Munda Badamajhi and Sanatan Badamajhi had been convicted by a third judge of the trial court - after two judges had been transferred - to life imprisonment for the August 23, 2008 murder of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, that was touted as a ‘Christian conspiracy’.
Following the Hindu leader's murder, nearly 100 Christians had been killed and 300 churches and 6,000 Christian houses plundered and torched in unabated violence that continued for weeks and left 56,000 homeless. Hindu masses - most of them illiterate - had been incited to take revenge on the Christians after the slain Swami's body was paraded across Kandhamal for two days along zigzag routes.
In mid 2015, two top police officials - who had relied upon the same conspiracy theory to ensure the conviction of the accused - testified before the Kandhamal judicial Inquiry commission that the allegations were false. Yet, the hearing on the appeal of the innocent convicts has been pending in the Odisha High Court since 2013.
Conclusive evidence that the author gathered from various quarters – from remote Kandhamal villages to the corridors of the United Nations - confirmed that Kandhamal conflagration was the product of a political conspiracy hatched at the highest level.
With the massive bloodshed, the Hindu nationalist goal was to entice the Christian world to put pressure on Sonia Gandhi (chairperson of the ruling federal coalition) to dismiss the Odisha government in which the BJP was a coalition partner.
Convinced about the creepy political conspiracy behind Kandhamal carnage, Akkara decided to take the bull by the horn.
On March 3, 2016, the author discreetly brought the illiterate wives of the seven innocent convicts from remote Kotagarh jungles to New Delhi to launch the online campaign www.release7innocents.com. The campaign was led by veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar in the presence of the illiterate wives of the 7 innocent convicts in New Delhi and a host of dignitaries.
(The online signatures initially generated three instant emails to the Chief Justice of India, the President of India and Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission demanding the release of the innocents. From the second anniversary of the campaign on March 3, 2018, online signature has been tuned to generate an email to the Chief Justice of Odisha High Court as well.
The initial response was timid with the signature count taking 20 months to cross 3,000. However, the campaign gathered steam with the author’s country-wide campaign with lectures and presentations. The tally crossed 36,000 by April 2018.
‘Who Killed Swami Laxmanananda?’
This investigative book, brought out in May 2016, has been the journalist author’s masterpiece on Kandhamal. It laid bare the fraud perpetrated by Hindu nationalists and the shocking travesty of justice with seven innocent Christians languishing in jail for a crime they never committed.
The book with Foreword by veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar made the media rewrite the Kandhamal Christian conspiracy script with The Telegraph bringing to national attention ‘Kandhamal Tale in New Light' and leading Odia daily 'Sambad' declaring that "People have been fooled' with the Hindu nationalist propaganda that the Hindu leader’s murder was a Christian conspiracy.
During the release of the Malayalam translation of this book on December 13, 2016, Pinarayi Vijayan, Chief Minister of Kerala, called for ‘a fresh probe’ into Kandhamal as seven innocent Christians continued to languish in jail.
The road to expose the Kandhamal fraud has been riddled with painful memories too. Gauri Lankesh, outspoken journalist who stood with the author at the release of the book in Bangalore, was shot dead on September 5, 2017.
More Stunning Facts
After 25 trips to the remote region, the journalist author brought out the revised edition of the nationally acclaimed book ‘Who Killed Swami Laxmanananda?’ on December 28, 2017 in New Delhi. Veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar and leaders of opposition political parties highlighted the judicial farce and travesty of justice in Kandhamal exposed by the book, leading to news headlines like Book questions conviction of Christians in Kandhamal violence, Not silence, time to preserve liberated India, says Kuldip Nayar, Questions Over Alleged Cover-Up of Kandhamal Killings
The secular conscience keepers of Odisha led by Goldman prize winner Prafulla Samantara stood by the author and over three dozen media persons attended the release of the revised edition of the book in Bhubaneswar, Odisha capital, on January 4, 2018.
The result was headlines like ‘Sangh Parivar’s (Hindu Nationalist) role in Swami’s murder, Mockery of judicial system, People fooled, Hindus question conviction of innocent Christians’. The Odia media expose of the Kandhamal fraud was summed up in this UCAN dispatch titled Social activist challenges Kandhamal fraudsters.
Winner of National essay contest-cum-debate organized by Indian Council of Philosophical Research on ‘Philosophy and Social Change’.
Media in your Country Award of International Network of Young Journalists for his article on the plight of the media caught between the devil and the deep sea in troubled Kashmir, and travelled to Brazil to receive the award.
Archbishop Casimir Award of New Leader magazine from Chennai.
Media in your Continent Award of Geneva-based UCIP for studying the satellite TV traffic jam over Asia and received it in Austria.
Silver Pen Award of ‘Examiner’ weekly, published from Mumbai, on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of Indian independence.
Journalism for Human Rights Award (honourable mention) of PUCL (People's Union for Civil Liberties) for exposing Grasim Rayons at Mavoor in Kerala for producing cancer along with silk, in a cover story in ‘Down to Earth’.
Raoul Follereau Award of AIFO Foundation in Italy instituted in memory of a valiant journalist – for his committed reporting on stigmatized lepers, AIDS infected and social concerns and received the award in Rome.
Media Award of KCBC (Kerala Catholic Bishops Council) for stirring national conscience on Kandhamal conflagration.
Titus Brandsma Award for Journalismof ICOM - International Christian Organisation of the Media for his ‘stellar role in highlighting the gross denial of fundamental rights and freedom of religion in Kandhamal jungles’. The triennial award, conferred at the World Media and Journalism Congress at Panama City, has been instituted in memory of Titus Brandsma, a fearless Dutch journalist and Carmelite priest who died in at Dachau concentration camp in 1942 for criticizing Hitler.