INDIA: Pastor reunited with family after extremists lock him up to die

Pastor Shelton VishwanathanPastor Shelton Vishwanathan (47) from Sheohar in northeast India’s Bihar state has been reunited with his family almost eight weeks after Hindu extremists beat him unconscious, locked him in a room and left him to die.

The pastor, who leads a house church of 18 people, told Morning Star News that the last thing he heard before losing consciousness was the extremists threatening to offer him as a sacrifice to their god. “They punched my back and told me that they would offer me as a sacrifice to their deity as a punishment for distributing gospel tracts,” he said. “They struck severe blows on my head, so that I soon fainted.”

Pastor Vishwanathan was previously attacked in June 2019, when eight Hindu extremists pushed him off his motor scooter, beating him and breaking his hand and foot.

On 5 October 2020, six radical Hindus told Pastor Vishwanathan to stop handing out tracts in Tiryani village, Sheohar district. He agreed and was about to go on his way when one of them took his phone and the keys for his motor scooter and signalled to the others to attack him. When he regained consciousness, he found himself locked in a dark room.

I shouted for help, cried loud hoping someone would hear my cries and come to help me, but nobody could hear me,” he said. “I was lying down on the floor without food or water for the next few days. They did not give me anything to eat or drink.”

Eventually a woman who lived nearby heard his cries and knocked on the door. “She told me that the door was bolted from outside and that she would open it for me on the condition that I would not tell anyone that she opened it,” the pastor said. “She was very scared that if the assailants found out that she opened the door, she would also land in trouble.”

He explained what had happened and told her he would starve and die if she did not open the door, so she let him out and gave him food and water.

Had she not helped, I would not be alive today,” he said. “I fully believe that it was God who sent her to help me.

Pastor Vishwanathan went home, but neighbours told him that his frightened family had searched for him throughout the district and then sold some furniture in order to travel to his wife’s home town in Nepal, which Bihar state borders.

Neighbours gave him food, money and an old mobile phone – the attackers had taken his phone, containing the number for his wife’s parents – but for weeks he could not reach his wife. With help from other Christians, he eventually made contact and paid for his family to return home on 28 November.

Evicted

Pastor Vishwanathan and his family have had to leave their home since reuniting after the attack. He explained, “The landlord of our rented home got to know that I was locked up in a room for a week and he told me that he cannot risk the lives of others by letting me stay in the house knowing there is a threat to my life. He issued an ultimatum to vacate the house.

With financial help from Christian groups, Pastor Vishwanathan has been able to find another house to rent. He has not been able to recover his motor scooter, however, which the attackers took, because he bought it second hand and has no vehicle documents – police have told him there is no way to find it.

Senior pastors from Patna, capital of Bihar state, have offered to help Pastor Vishwanathan and have suggested he file charges against the attackers. “But I did not want to pursue a case against the assailants,” Pastor Vishwanathan said. “I had come under attack several times for leading a home church and sharing the gospel in villages but survived only because of God’s grace. Even in the past, the police warned me that there is a threat to my life. As the Navratri [Hindu festival] celebrations were in full swing, if I was found again the assailants might have really offered me as a sacrifice to the deity.”

The pastor hopes to continue distributing tracts. “I am overjoyed to see the Lord’s hand in every situation over the past two months,” he said. “My family who thought I must have been lost and died have returned to see me alive. We give thanks and praises to the Lord.”

(Morning Star News)