Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Suspect in Killings of Indian Christian Pastors Confesses

NEW DELHI, July 11 (Compass) -- A 25-year-old man recently confessed to the murder of two Christian pastors in Hyderabad city, Andhra Pradesh, southern India.

The accused said he was inspired by Dara Singh, a Hindu activist convicted for the murder of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons, ages 11 and 7, in January 1998.

Police said on June 30 they had arrested five other suspects and claimed the men had drawn up plans to kill other Christian ministers, according to a report by the Indo Asian News Service.

Police Commissioner V. Dinesh Reddy said two or three other pastors were on the list and the gang had already threatened them.

The two murders that shook the Christian community of Hyderabad took place in May. The body of Pastor K. Daniel, a preacher from Kummarvadi, was found on the outskirts of the city on May 20, bearing marks suggestive of an acid attack. The body of Pastor Isaac Raju, who went missing on May 24, was found on June 2. (See Compass Direct, "Second Pastor Found Dead in Andhra Pradesh, India," June 6, 2005.)

Police arrested Kokala Govardhan, who confessed to the killings, in the third week of June. Two other accomplices are still on the run.

Govardhan told reporters in Hyderabad that Dara Singh, convicted of the murder of Graham Staines, inspired him to kill the pastors.

"By killing the two pastors, we wanted to show the world that whoever tries to convert Hindus to Christianity will meet the same fate," he said.

Singh, who recently received a life sentence, was convicted of burning Graham Staines and his two sons to death while they slept in a jeep in Baripada district of eastern Orissa state.

Along with hundreds of Hindu extremists surrounding the jeep, Singh set fire to the vehicle and blocked all possible escape. Singh and his followers had accused Staines of running a "conversion camp" in Baripada. Staines and his wife were running a medical center for leprosy patients.

Soon after the gruesome murders, Staines' widow said she had forgiven the killers of her husband and children. "If we don’t forgive men of the wrong that they do, then how can we be forgiven?" she repeated in a recent BBC interview.

Sentences of life imprisonment normally run for a maximum of 14 years in India. With the arrest of Govardhan and his shocking revelation that Singh inspired him to kill the pastors, however, Christian groups in India say Singh must receive a stiffer sentence as a warning to other extremists.

The Global Council for Indian Christians (GCIC) plans to file a review petition in the Supreme Court, asking that Singh's life sentence be changed to the death penalty.

The GCIC has also petitioned Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to provide adequate security for Christians in India. In its petition to the prime minister, the organization said "The well-orchestrated attacks against Christians are aimed at intimidating Christians ... [and pushing] radical Hindus to keep the pot of hatred boiling all the time."

The All India Christian Council also supported the petition, although its president, John Dayal, said he was against the death penalty.

"We have always said that the award of a life sentence to Dara Singh would have serious consequences," said Dayal. "What greater evidence do we need than this case, where the killer himself is saying that Dara Singh inspired him?"

For this reason, Dayal said, he strongly supports the petition of the GCIC. "Exemplary punishment," he said, "should be given to people like Dara Singh."

Courtesy: Compass Direct