Sunday, July 04, 2004

Pastor Brutally Attacked in Tripura Village

Intruders use knives, spears to attack a local missionary and his family.
By Vijayesh Lal

DELHI, July 2 -- An Indian pastor brutally beaten in an attack in West Tripura in late April is still recovering from serious knife wounds.

Letthang Gangte, a missionary sent out by the Evangelical Congregational Church of India, received cuts to the head and back, and a deep stab wound in the stomach. His wife and two young children were also severely injured.

However, police have insisted that until the family can identify and name the perpetrators, no action will be taken.

Gangte and his wife were awakened around 3 a.m. on April 19 by a group of men armed with knives and spears who had broken into their small mud hut in the village of Rajghat, West Tripura.

His wife screamed and Gangte attempted to fight back. Meanwhile, a heavy storm drowned out the sounds of the struggle. By the time Gangte managed to escape and alert the neighbors, all four members of his family were seriously injured.

In the thick darkness of the storm it was impossible to see the faces of the intruders. The pastor and his wife say there were at least eight, and possibly ten, men in the group.

The neighbors immediately called the police, but when they arrived, the intruders had left, taking with them some of the families' belongings.
The pastor and his family were then taken to Agartala Hospital for treatment. Gangte was covered in blood after receiving a number of severe head injuries, two deep cuts across his shoulder and a deep stab wound to his abdomen. He also suffered a broken bone.

Witnesses say it was a miracle that Gangte survived.

His wife sustained injuries to her head and one arm. Their daughter Bebem, 7, and son Bawilun, 10, were treated for slashes on their calves and thighs.

The family comes from a village in Manipur, northeast India. The Evangelical Synod Church, a constituent member of the Evangelical Congregational Church of India, sent them to Rajghat village as missionaries in 1995.

Even before they arrived, signs of trouble surfaced. Another local missionary was attacked on the night of December 5, 2002. He was slashed six times with a knife on his head and other parts of his body. The incident so disturbed him that he was recalled from the village.

Local Christians believe both attacks were carried out by the same assailants.

Gangte wants to return to the village, despite the intimidation. "I will not leave, even if it means the end of life for myself and my family," he told us through his leaders.

However, his family is still traumatized after the attack. They are living in safety outside the village, but both children continue to have nightmares and are afraid to sleep in the dark.

In an effort to safeguard the family on their return, the sending church has drawn up plans for the construction of a brick house which could provide more protection than the mud hut the family occupied. The hut's walls had softened during the rain storm, allowing the attackers to break in easily.

One local Christian told us that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), two organizations known for their extreme Hindu beliefs, are very active in the region. The RSS insists the tribal people should not convert to what they call Christian "slavery." Both organizations have launched a propaganda campaign to convince tribal people who have converted to Christianity from animist religions that they were actually Hindus.

If tribal people do become Hindus, they are automatically placed on the lowest level of India’s caste system as "Dalits" ("Untouchables"). Only the most menial jobs are allotted to Dalits; higher-paid employment is reserved for people of higher castes.

The Christian church, on the other hand, is committed to raising the standard of education and employment for tribal people.

Theoretically, a non-Hindu tribal person is not subject to the caste system. Therefore when tribal people reject animism and turn to Christ, their conversion threatens the very fabric of Hindu society.

Gangte and his family are still recovering from their ordeal. Their sending church requested the police to carry out an investigation in Rajghat, but the officers refused, saying Gangte must first positively identify the men who attacked him. Gangte is reluctant to do so, fearing reprisals against himself and his family.
The church is currently seeking legal advice.