Pastor in India Arrested During Sunday Worship

Friday, July 21, 2006

Police beat him following complaints that he was teaching Bible to village children.
by Nirmala Carvalho

MUMBAI, India, July 20 (Compass Direct News) -- Police on Sunday (July 16) arrested Pastor Om Prakash Pandey while he was leading worship at his independent church in the village of Daksinwara, in the Sultanpur district of Uttar Pradesh state.

The 27-year-old pastor was taken to the Kurebhar police station – dragged there by villagers upset that he taught the Bible to children, by some accounts – where Police Inspector Jawahar Lal Saroj and others beat him mercilessly, according to sources who spoke under condition of anonymity. He was released on Monday (July 17) without any charges filed against him.

The sources said the officers were careful to ensure that all the wounds inflicted on Pandey were not visible.

Ram Gopal Varma, headman of Daksinwara village, told Compass that Hindus had objected to Pandey conducting Bible classes for children of tribal people in the remote, Hindu-majority village.

“These ‘Bhajan Mandalis’ (Hymn Group-Singers), have been conducting ‘house meetings’ in our village for some time,” Varma said. “Besides their own meetings, Om Prakash taught Bible studies to the village children, ages ranging from 8 to 10 years, thus indoctrinating them into Christianity.”

Apparently referring to the villagers who forcibly took Pandey to the police station, the headman said that they also roughed him up to serve as a stern warning to stop his “proselytizing” activities.

Police Inspector Saroj told Compass that irate villagers in Daksinwara beat Pandey and then dragged him to the police station. The villagers accused him of secretly preaching Christianity to children.

“We did not register any case against him,” Saroj said, “but we detained him at the police station throughout the night, because the villagers were so incensed with him that we were afraid that if we released him that evening, the angry mob might have endangered his life.”

Local sources stated that a local Hindu-extremist Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) coordinator, identified only as Amarjeet, was behind the arrest and beatings. Amarjeet is from Faziabad, near Ayodhya (the birth place of Lord Rama), about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Daksinwara.

Political Motives

Dr. John Dayal, general secretary of the All India Christian Union, said the attack was part of a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) strategy for winning votes in upcoming state assembly elections.

“These are important elections for the BJP, which is trying to regain the power it lost,” Dayal said. “This incident is alleged to be at the instigation of pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party’s frontal organization, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.”

He added that the tiny Christian population in the state is hardly in a position to protest and is easily silenced into submission by a show of force. “The police, as in most other states, almost always sides with the majority community,” Dayal said.

The Rev. Dr. Babu Joseph, spokesman for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, told Compass that the state government should take immediate steps to restrain such police officials and compensate the pastor who was subjected to unwarranted harassment and physical suffering.

“The right to worship is fundamental to every citizen, and the police as a law-enforcing agency have a duty to safeguard it rather than sabotage it,” Rev. Joseph said.

Copyright 2006 Compass Direct News