Hindu Extremists Surround Christian Compound in Bihar, India

Thursday, September 8, 2005

Extremists try to kill mission director; over 1,000 Christians trapped.

by Vishal Arora

NEW DELHI, September 8 (Compass) -- A mob of Hindu extremists surrounded a mission compound in India’s Bihar state on August 31 and kept it under siege for three days. The mob attempted to kill the Rev. Augustine Jebakumar, director of the mission, and demanded his arrest for allegedly desecrating a Hindu idol.

The compound belongs to the Gospel Echoing Missionary Society (GEMS), the largest indigenous Christian missionary agency in Bihar. It contains a school, student hospital, orphanage, hospital and other social service facilities.

The trouble began at about 7:30 p.m. on August 31, when a group of young people who were taking part in a religious procession passed the GEMS compound in Sikaria village, Rohtas district, about 200 kilometers (124 miles) away from the state capital, Patna.

Jebakumar asked the young people -- who were “mostly drunk,” according to a local source -- to reduce the volume of their loudspeakers in consideration for students who were studying inside the compound.

A man in the procession immediately hit Jebakumar on the nose, and others joined in the attack. The driver of a tractor in the procession then tried to run over the director, but several Christians who came running out of the compound managed to save him.

The mob then hit the Christians with sticks and stones, injuring at least 12. Four were seriously injured; two were later hospitalized.

Someone in the mob switched off the electricity supply to the compound, leading to mass confusion. Under cover of darkness, members of the mob also broke the Hindu idol they were carrying and blamed Jebakumar for the desecration.

The idol would normally be immersed in a nearby river as part of the religious procession.

As the news spread, more than 800 Hindus surrounded the compound, demanding the arrest of Jebakumar.

In an e-mail message on September 3, a representative of GEMS, who requested anonymity, told Compass, “We’ve been trapped inside the compound for the past three days, as there is a big mob right at the entrance of our campus. There are about 100 families and 900 children ... inside the compound.”

Police eventually gave in to mob pressure and arrested Jebakumar on the afternoon of September 3, holding him for several hours at the local police station. Jebakumar later said he had cooperated with the arrest as the police admitted they were “unable to control the violent crowd.”

Sohail Ahmed Khan, chairman of the Bihar State Minorities Commission, told Compass, “Sikaria village does not come in the normal route of the procession. It seems the procession was taken there to deliberately create trouble.”

Those behind the arrest of Jebakumar belong to the Bajrang Dal, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and the Bharatiya Janata Party, Khan said, “all of whom want to destabilize the school Christians are running there.”

“I will talk to the police superintendent and ask him not to allow Christians to be harassed,” Khan added.

Pastor E. C. Johnson, the regional coordinator of GEMS, said the attack was politically motivated. “Sharad Joshi, an independent politician seemingly supported by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) and the RSS, is the leader of the group which is politicizing this event,” he told Compass. “This is partly because the state assembly elections are near.”

Bihar state came under federal rule on March 7 after the state governor, Buta Singh, said no local political party was in a position to form a stable government.

State assembly elections are scheduled to begin on October 18.

“We have also heard that the agitators are now planning to construct a temple near the compound,” Johnson added.

GEMS members confirmed that a few hours after Jebakumar was arrested, the mob planted a flag on land adjacent to the compound. The land was donated on September 2 by a neighbor sympathetic to the mob for the construction of a Hindu temple. Local politician Joshi has reportedly promised a large sum of money for construction costs.

In a statement on September 5, Jebakumar said this was the fourth attack on the school, and asked for prayer as the situation remained tense.

According to 2001 census figures, Christians make up only 53,137 of Bihar’s total population of 83 million.

Copyright 2005 Compass Direct