Hindu Extremists in India Attack Church, Burn Bibles

Thursday, May 5, 2005

Attackers molest female worshippers, severely injure pastor and wife.

by Vishal Arora

NEW DELHI, May 4 (Compass) -- A crowd of nearly 500 Hindu villagers attacked the pastor of a house church, his wife and other church members in the southern state of Karnataka on May 1. The attackers sexually molested female church members and burned Bibles and other Christian literature.

About 60 people were present at the Sunday service of King Jesus Church, which meets in the home of Pastor Paulraj Raju in Mangalwarapete village near the Mysore district in Karnataka state. The church belongs to Harvest India, a Christian mission.

Pastor Charles Isaac, director of the Evangelical Free Church Urban Movement (EFCUM) of India, gave details of the attack.

“On the morning of May 1, a 500-strong mob of Hindus, who identified themselves as belonging to the Bajrang Dal, a Hindu fundamentalist group, and the Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party [BJP], entered into the church and violently attacked Pastor Raju, his wife, and other Christians.

“When the women tried to stop them from beating up Christian men, the attackers pulled at their clothes and tried to touch them sexually.

“Pastor Raju was beaten up until he started bleeding profusely. His wife was also bleeding terribly. And Mr. Nagraj, an elder of the church, was also seriously injured in the attack.”

At press time, Raju was still in the hospital recovering from his injuries.

“We submitted a memorandum to the Chief Minister of Karnataka, Mr. Dharam Singh, on May 3, requesting him to protect Christians and take action against the perpetrators,” Isaac told Compass.

EFCUM India is a member of the Indian Mission Association, an umbrella body of Christian churches and missions in India.

Ms. Phelomina Peris, former chairperson of the Karnataka State Commission for Women, said, “I will visit Channapatna tomorrow to talk to the women who were molested. Such a shameful incident is against the Indian culture and against international culture.”

According to Samuel Jacob, the director of Harvest India, “The mob completely damaged all the items in the hall where the worship was going on. Besides, they publicly burned Bibles and Christian literature.”

The May 1 attack echoed an earlier incident on April 1, when a mob of about 200 people gathered in front of Raju’s house and demanded that he close down the church and leave the district, stated Jacob.

The officers of Channapatna Police Station acted promptly. “We have arrested the five accused named in the First Information Report, and we have provided protection to Pastor Raju and his wife,” said Mr. Jeyaram, the officer in charge of the investigation.

However, Jeyaram rejected the Christians’ claim that the attackers were from the local Bajrang Dal and BJP. “All the accused are local residents, and they do not belong to any organization,” he insisted.

A more senior police official in the district, who requested anonymity, told Compass, “The attackers seemingly had the support of the local BJP.” However, this official alleged that there were only 10 to 15 attackers and that the incident was sparked by a dispute between Raju and a neighbor named Shekhar.

“Mr. Shekhar converted to Christianity some time ago, but he recently reconverted to Hinduism, which is perhaps why Pastor Raju and he developed a quarrel,” the official claimed.

Pastor Raju was beaten by local people in January and later arrested by local police on charges of attempting conversions.

“On January 14, Pastor Raju had gone to a nearby village, Rampur, where some villagers caught him and beat him up, saying he had come to convert Hindus,” Isaac said. “Later, he was taken to the police station, where he was interrogated and finally asked to go back home.”

On the following day, the police summoned him and arrested him for converting Hindus, a charge levied by a local Hindu, Mr. Lokesh. Raju was arrested under Section 153A(1)b of the Indian Penal Code, which prohibits any act leading to religious disharmony.

“Raju was detained until March 3, while the police did no investigation at all. He was finally released after his wife filed a petition to quash the case against him and after the Karnataka High Court passed an order for his release.”

Only one million of the 52.8 million inhabitants of Karnataka state are Christians. Hindus number 44.3 million, according to 2001 census figures.