Second Pastor Found Dead in Andhra Pradesh, India
'Anti-Christian Forum' claims responsibility for murders.
NEW DELHI, June 6 (Compass) -- On June 2, police in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh found the body of Pastor Isaac Raju, missing since May 24.
According to Sam Paul, national secretary of the All India Christian Council, the body was found wrapped in a jute bag that was dumped behind bushes in the Golconda area, just outside the state capital, Hyderabad.
Raju, who led an independent church on the outskirts of the city, is survived by his wife and 18-year-old son. His 15-year-old daughter died in a road accident in April.
This is the second case of mysterious disappearance and death of a Christian minister in Andhra Pradesh in recent weeks. On May 21, the body of K. Daniel, a preacher from Kummarvadi, also on the outskirts of Hyderabad, was found bearing marks suggestive of an acid attack.
"We don't know what's happening, but we are scared," Paul told Compass. "Someone called and told the police that [Raju's] body was lying there. At first the police could not find the body. Then another call came, giving precise directions, and the body was found.
"The same thing happened in Daniel’s case. They called to tell where the body was. It's a very planned way of terrorizing the Christian community," he added.
"The body was so badly decomposed that it could not be recognized. The police identified him from his belt and clothes."
A post mortem will be carried out to determine the cause of death, but Paul believes the murder was clearly "a religious crime."
According to sources, a man named Vinod called to see Raju a week before his disappearance and asked if he was available as a wedding celebrant. Raju's father answered yes. A week later, on May 24, Raju told his wife that Vinod had phoned and that he was going to meet him. When Raju failed to come home, the family reported him missing.
Following his disappearance, police launched a massive manhunt. The situation was particularly worrying, as K. Daniel had also been approached regarding a wedding ceremony before his disappearance, according to an Associated Press (AP) report on June 5.
The AP report also said police questioned at least 150 members of Hindu nationalist groups after an anonymous letter was sent to a local newspaper, claiming the murders were carried out by an organization called the "Anti-Christian Forum."
Paul confirmed to Compass that a state newspaper published a copy of the letter on May 31.
"The release said that [the Anti-Christian Forum] was responsible for Daniel's death and that they would repeat such killings. We didn't take it seriously at the time, thinking it was a ploy, but the police are now investigating who is behind this organization," said Paul.
Following the recovery of Raju's body, the state government formed a Special Investigation Team to find those responsible for the murders. The home minister has also offered protection to Christian missionaries living in the state.
"Pastors of larger churches are not scared, but others, those who live and work alone on the outskirts of the city, are really scared. There are at least 200 to 300 of them," Paul said.
There are approximately 1,500 churches in Hyderabad city, and the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Y. Rajshekhar Reddy, "claims to be a Christian," according to Paul.
At press time, the Christian community in Hyderabad was planning a peace march. Christian leaders also planned to meet with Reddy to discuss security concerns.
Meanwhile, a notice in The Hindu on June 6 offered a reward for information leading to the arrest of the killer or killers of Daniel and Raju.