INDIA: Assaulted pastor and family face charges

Pastor Basant Kumar PaulFollowing the brutal house church attack in Jharkhand state on 12 November, it has emerged that Pastor Basant Kumar Paul and seven members of his family are facing police charges over the incident, during which Hindu extremists severely beat them. The First Incident Report against them lists charges including rioting, unlawful assembly, provocation and witchcraft.

The pastor and his mother, wife, son and brother were seriously injured when eight members of the Hindu paramilitary organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh attacked a prayer meeting of the Evangelical Church of the Calvary Gospel Ministry in pastor’s home in Parihara village, Garhwa district. The three women and five men, who included a police officer, were armed with an axe, bamboo rods and wooden clubs.

Pastor Paul (45) was beaten unconscious with blows to the head, and also sustained serious injuries to the rest of his body. “I cannot even lift my finger without pain,” he told Morning Star News.If I touch my head, it pains severely and feels swollen.”

Pastor Paul’s mother Lakhpati Devi (68) and brother Uday Ram sustained head injuries from axe blows, his wife Shila Devi sustained internal injuries and went into a coma following the attack (she subsequently came out of the coma). Pastor Paul’s son Anugrah Raj (20) was beaten so badly that he had to undergo knee replacement surgery on 21 November. Church in Chains partner Persecution Relief is supporting the family with funding for medical expenses.

Attack

Further details of the attack emerged when Morning Star News spoke to the pastor about the incident and the police response.

Pastor Paul described how the attack began: “I had closed my eyes in prayer when one person from behind suddenly pressed my mouth and closed my nose, so that I could not breath, while another pair of hands started to choke me at my throat. I began to throw my hands and feet in all directions, trying to rescue myself as I choked to death. A third person picked up my Bible and threw it.”

Jharkhand pastor's wifeHis wife (pictured) rushed to help him but two of the attackers held the pastor while the others beat her with wooden sticks. “They hit my wife while abusing her with vulgar language, accusing her of performing witchcraft and spreading it among the women of the village,” he said.

Pastor Paul described what happened when his son ran into the room: “Leaving my wife, the attackers pounced on my son. Four of them caught hold of him, lay him on the floor, and the others began to hit him with the wooden sticks. They aimed at his leg and beat him mercilessly, till his leg broke.

Villagers ran to inform the pastor’s mother and brother, who live about 500 metres away, and they hurried to the rescue. “The attackers did not even spare my old mother – they hit her with wooden sticks, and one of them attacked her with an axe, injuring her head,” said Pastor Paul. “They beat my brother Uday and struck him with the axe on his head as well.”

Between 15 and twenty supporters and relatives of the Hindu extremists then joined in the attack, each armed with a wooden club.

They all began to beat me. I got several blows on my back, legs, head and every inch of my body,” said Pastor Paul, adding that everyone in the mob hit him until their wooden clubs broke. “From two hundred to 250 spectators stood witnessing the assault,” he said. “But none dared stop the brutality, fearing their own lives.”

After regaining consciousness about 15 minutes later, the pastor put his injured family members into his motorised three-wheeler and drove to Garhwa police station – crime victims in India are required to go first to the police, who take them to hospital. Police officers immediately sent them to a government hospital about 500 metres away.

Police response

After his family members had been admitted to hospital, Pastor Paul returned to the police station and submitted a complaint against the attackers. He collapsed at the door on his way out and was carried to the hospital. “My wife and family in the hospital began to lament for me, thinking I was dead,” he said.

The pastor and his family were discharged the next day, despite the severity of their injuries. His mother was still unable to walk and needed treatment from an unregistered medical practitioner in the village.

In Pastor Paul’s police complaint, he noted that the attackers stole his watch, mobile phone and 80,000 rupees (€1,016), with which he had planned to make a payment on his newly-purchased three-wheeler vehicle.

Police registered a First Information Report (FIR) against the Hindu extremists but made no arrests, and the pastor said they manipulated his written complaint. The FIR against the attackers lists charges of rioting, rioting armed with deadly weapon, unlawful assembly, injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult religion, wrongful restraint, voluntarily causing hurt, theft and criminal intimidation. The pastor petitioned a court on 18 November to have charges including attempted murder included in his FIR.

The police deliberately left these sections out of the compliant I placed,” he said. “My application has been accepted by the court, and soon I will hear from them.”

To Pastor Paul’s shock, police summoned him to the station on 18 November and informed him that a First Information Report had been registered against him and seven family members twenty minutes before his was registered. The Investigating Officer told the pastor to procure anticipatory bail or face arrest. The FIR against the pastor and his family lists charges of rioting, unlawful assembly, wrongful restraint, punishment for house-trespass, voluntarily causing hurt, theft and provocation, and includes a charge under the Prevention of Witch Practices Act.

Police officer Arun Kumar Tiwari told Morning Star News that state elections are occupying police, and that the case is on hold until after that. Asked how neutrality could be guaranteed in the investigation when one of the attackers is a police officer, Tiwari said the officer in question is no longer posted at Garhwa police station, having been transferred long before the incident.

Ongoing persecution

Pastor Paul, who has another son, a daughter and a grandson, has led a house church since 2010. His is the only Christian family in the village, but his front room accommodates 35 families from as far as 20 km away for worship services.

Pastor Paul told Morning Star News that he was also nearly killed in an attack in 2015. “I have faced so much opposition from my own family, my clan and from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, where I was deeply involved as a teacher before I came to Christ, that I have become immune to persecution now,” he said. “I am not scared of persecution anymore. Though in the initial years of my faith, I would be scared. My physical body might be weak, but my spirit is very strong, it will not break with persecution. They tried to kill me twice, I was almost dead, but I still did not die. I will not die until the Lord calls me back home. This assurance drives away all my fears.”

(Asia News/Morning Star News/Persecution Relief)