NEW DELHI, August 15 (Compass) -- Hindu extremists violently attacked a prayer meeting in Rajasthan state last night, seriously injuring nine Christians, including one woman.
The mob struck at midnight on August 14, during an all-night prayer vigil held in a private home in Pathda village, Banswara district, near the border between Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. The Christians had gathered for a three-day prayer meeting to mark India’s Independence Day on August 15.
"There were about 50 people from Pathda and Piploda villages at the prayer meeting, in which prayers were offered for the nation," Patras Habil, a member of the Madhya Pradesh State Minorities Commission, told Compass.
The assailants delivered an axe blow to the head of Jeeva Badar, in whose house the prayer meeting was organized. The resulting wound required nine stitches.
"They also tried to strangle Asha Suresh, a Christian lady, which has apparently affected her vocal cords as today she is unable to speak," Habil said, adding, "Laxman Rupara received an injury to his lower back, making him unable to stand up."
The names of the nine Christians injured in the attack are Jeeva Badar, Border Dippa, Bua Rupa, Prabhu Baji, Laxman Rupara, Shandu Mangu, Khumji Hawala, Dangi Mangu, and Asha Suresh.
Tensions were still running high at press time. A mob of about 300 people went on a rampage today when representatives of Miracle Ministry, the Madhya Pradesh-based Christian organization that organized the prayer meeting, came to the local police station to collect a copy of the First Information Report (FIR).
"Seeing a 300-strong mob with sticks, the police had to escort the Christians back across the border to Madhya Pradesh in the afternoon," Habil explained. "It seems there is a threat of further attacks."
Pastor Biju Varghese of Miracle Ministry, who was at the police station, told Compass that about 20 people chased the police jeep as the Christians drove to the Madhya Pradesh border.
"We are worried about the Christians in [the area]," Varghese said. "They are not safe there."
Varghese said those who attacked the prayer meeting were wearing the typical khaki uniform of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu extremist group. A member of the Rajasthan State Minorities Commission confirmed that the border area was the center of RSS activity in the state.
But Sanjeev Kumar, police superintendent of Banswara district, denied that Christians were seriously injured in the attack or that a Hindu extremist organization was behind it.
"It was a very ordinary clash, and no one has received serious injuries," he said. "No organization was behind it. However, I have ordered an investigation and the arrest of the accused who are absconding."
The police are seeking seven men in connection with the incident on charges of rioting, house-trespass with intent to commit a punishable offence, voluntarily causing hurt, and unlawful assembly.
Banswara district, which is among the poorest in the state and is populated mainly by tribal peoples, has long been a target of Hindu extremist organizations.
In 1998, Advocate P.L. Mimorth and M.P. Chaudhry of the Indian Social Institute noted that leaders of the Sangh Parivar (a family of Hindu extremist organizations under the leadership of the RSS) had declared their intention to stamp out Christianity in Banswara district by the year 2000.
Incidents of violence against Christians increased after the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party defeated the Congress Party in the state elections in December 2003. In one recent example, extremists violently attacked students of the Emmanuel Mission Bible School in Rajasthan’s Kora district on February 19. (See Compass Direct, "Indian Hindus Attack Christian Students in Rajasthan," February 22.)