NEW DELHI (Morning Star News) – A Hindu extremist mob on Jan. 28 attacked two pastors in northern India, setting the Bible of one on fire as he blacked out from the beating, he said.
Accusing the pastors of luring the family they were visiting with money to convert, the hardline Hindus attacked Pastor Sanjay Kumar and Pastor Inderjit, who goes by a single name, as they came down from praying with the family on the roof of their home in the Anand Nagar area of Haryana state’s Ambala Cantonment.
Training phone cameras on the pastors, the Hindu mob questioned them in coarse language without letting them answer, while their gestures made it clear they meant to physically attack them, Pastor Kumar said. Sanjay Rana, a neighbor and member of the Hindu extremist Bajrang Dal, gathered and led the mob of about 12 people after noticing the pastors praying on the roof, Pastor Kumar said.
Demanding identification, Rana seized Pastor Inderjit’s driver’s license and Pastor Kumar’s national ID card before the mob began punching and slapping them, Pastor Kumar said.
Accusing them of receiving foreign funds and offering money to people to convert, the assailants seized Pastor Kumar’s diary in which he prepared his sermons, looking for names and addresses of people they thought might have been fraudulently lured to convert, he said. Finding no such names, they tore the pages of the book and a songbook and threw them into a gutter, he added.
After momentarily blacking out from the beating, Pastor Kumar pleaded with them to return his Bible, he said.
“Their beating did not pain me as much as the snatching of my Bible did,” Pastor Kumar told Morning Star News. “I began to weep. I said, ‘This is my Bible….this is my Jesus. Please give my Bible back to me. A woman and a man from the crowd using a matchbox burned my Bible, and she sarcastically exclaimed, ‘See, I have set your Jesus ablaze.’”
Still recording them on their mobile phones, the assailants tried to force the pastors to recite a devotional hymn in praise of the Hindu god Hanuman. They also tried to abduct the pastors and take them to a Hindu temple to force them to bow before idols, Pastor Kumar said.
“They began to force us to enter their car,” he said. “When we resisted firmly, they said, ‘Let’s call the police.”
Pastor Inderjit said he was glad at the possibility of police arriving and ending the 90 minutes of physical and mental abuse. Noting pastor Kumar’s dizziness from the beating, one of the assailants said they should let them go, and the two pastors fled.
The pastors were visiting the home of the daily laborer while returning to their homes and separate churches in Punjab state from a meeting in Kathal, Haryana state.
Madhu, 33-year-old wife of the daily laborer whose home the pastors were visiting, Ravi Kumar, began to experience palpitations and fainted as she witnessed the assault, said her husband. The mother of three had to be hospitalized.
“I quickly rushed her to the hospital, leaving behind my children amid the ruckus,” Ravi Kumar said.
She returned home that night but was taken to another hospital the next day, where she was kept under medical supervision and treatment until her release on Jan. 30, he said.
Pastors Inderjit and Kumar sustained several internal injuries. Pastor Kumar received medical treatment and pain relievers.
When the pastors arrived at the house the morning of Jan. 28, six other people joined them in prayer on the roof, including two local women. One of the women, identified only as Rita, was visiting the couple when the pastors arrived, and she stayed as she wanted to attend the prayer, Ravi Kumar said, adding that he saw no danger in it.
When the Hindu extremists surrounded the pastors and began to push them, however, they accused the church leaders of luring Ravi Kumar and his wife to Christianity with money.
“I told them to ask the members of the family we were visiting if we have forced them to come to church, if we have allured them or offered them any money to come to church,” Pastor Inderjit said. “They asked the family if we had allured them. The family outrightly denied any allurement. They in fact began to testify of the reason for their belief in Jesus.”
The extremists shouted back at Madhu, claiming she had changed her religion in exchange for a sack of wheat, and that she should take a sack from them instead and return to her original faith, Pastor Kumar said.
The assailants threatened Ravi Kumar and his family, but they confessed before the mob that they would continue to follow the Lord Jesus, the Scheduled Caste tribal Dalit said.
After the pastors fled, the assailants remained in front of Ravi Kumar’s house for several hours, causing commotion, he said.
“We were very concerned for the safety of Ravi Kumar and his family,” Pastor Inderjit said. “So, I decided to stay back and visit them the next day.”
He returned with Pastor Vishnu Dev, a Christian leader in Punjab state. While Pastor Inderjit took Madhu to Philadelphia Mission Hospital in Ambala City the morning of Jan. 29, where she stayed till the evening of Jan. 30, Pastor Dev helped Ravi Kumar submit a written complaint at the Ambala Cantonment police station.
Later Pastor Inderjit learned that a First Information Report (FIR) was registered against him alleging he forcefully tried to convert Rita at the prayer meeting.
“We were shocked to learn from the police station that Rita signed on the complaint letter, which was a complete lie,” Ravi Kumar told Morning Star News. “Our terms with Rita and her family were very cordial. I do not know how the Hindu extremists were able to convince Rita to sign the complaint letter.”
Police Station Head Officer of Ambala Cantonment Naresh Kumar confirmed to Morning Star News that FIRs have been registered against both parties. Ravi Kumar’s Jan. 29 complaint, FIR No. 83, alleged “destruction, damage, or defilement of a place of worship or an object held sacred,” “voluntarily causing hurt” and “house-trespass,” while Rita’s FIR No. 84 on the same date alleged “outraging religious feelings,” “wounding religious feelings” and “provocation.”
The SHO confirmed that police went to the crime scene, but he declined to comment on burning of a Bible. He also denied that Rana had any links with the Bajrang Dal or other Hindu nationalist groups.
“The report from the scene of crime team is pending, investigation is still on,” SHO Kumar said.
Pastor Dev told Morning Star News that police went to investigate the crime scene and took the remains and ashes of the burned Bible for investigation.
When police summoned Christians for “peace talks” at the Ambala Cantonment police station, they met with Rana, who was accompanied by several people belonging to Hindu nationalist groups, including a well-known political leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
They reached an agreement on Jan. 30 in SHO Kumar’s office, signing affidavits the next day withdrawing their complaints, SHO Kumar said.
“The matter is resolved now,” he said. “Rita and Ravi Kumar have signed affidavits saying that they have entered a mutual compromise and that their application of complaint against each other should be nullified and no action pertaining to it be taken.”
Pastor Inderjit, who said he attended the meeting via conference call, told Morning Star News that Rana asked for forgiveness.
“Sanjay Rana and a well-known BJP leader, Rambabu Yadav, spoke to me on conference call from inside the police station,” Pastor Inderjit said. “Sanjay Rana asked me for forgiveness for assaulting me and Pastor Sanjay. I told him that I forgive him.”
Pastor Inderjit noted that the agreement pertained only to physical assault, not the Bible burning. He continues to demand action against those who burned it.
Christian leaders from Gurdaspur District, Punjab state held a press conference on Wednesday (Feb. 2) demanding strict action against those who burned the Bible. Some 50 Christian leaders, pastors and elders of various churches submitted a memorandum to the district deputy commissioner demanding prosecution.
“The DC [deputy commission] was very cooperative,” Pastor Inderjit said. “He condemned the incident and marked a copy to the Dhariwal police station, where a complaint was registered on Feb. 2.”
The Gurdaspurt District deputy commissioner and the SHO of Dhariwal have assured the Christian community of a fair investigation.
Ravi Kumar and his family on Tuesday (Feb. 1) left Ambala and have moved to another area undisclosed for security reasons.
He began believing in Christ after his wife received healing prayer from Pastor Inderjit during a visit to Punjab state last year, he said. Later, on Dec. 12, Ravi Kumar suffered a stroke that paralyzed his left side and took away his ability to walk, and two days later Pastor Inderjit prayed for him over the phone, he said.
“After he prayed for me, I was healed,” he said, adding that he was then honored that the pastor and Pastor Kumar took the time to visit and pray with him on Jan. 28. “I am very hurt that my neighbors disrespectfully treated both the pastors and assaulted them. I want to live a peaceful life. I want the freedom to worship the God I believe in.”
Ravi Kumar said the Lord has been good to him.
“With Madhu’s healing, I had started to believe in Jesus, but with my healing my faith has become rock solid,” he said. “He healed me; Why would I not believe in Him? Why would I not worship the Almighty who healed me by prayer made over a phone? I have begun to believe in the Lord very strongly. I will not leave Him.”
The hostile tone of the National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist BJP, against non-Hindus, has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, religious rights advocates say.
India ranked 10th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2022 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, as it was in 2021. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position worsened after Modi came to power.
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