by Vijayesh Lal and Rahul Pant
NEW DELHI, November 29 (Compass) - Christians in the Kakradara area of Jhabua in Madhya Pradesh state are living in fear after extremists barred access to their new church and beat up their pastor and visiting evangelists after a church dedication ceremony on November 5.
Pastor Ramesh Bhuria established the Christian community in Kakradara about 15 years ago. When membership rose to over 100 people, the congregation raised funds and contributed materials for a new church building.
Several evangelists from Jesus Redeems Ministries in Tamil Nadu state were invited to speak at the dedication service. The ceremony completed, they started back home at around 4 p.m., accompanied by a few local Christians.
Just 100 meters away from the church, they were confronted by 12 men carrying long sticks. These men forced the evangelists to stop and asked them what they were doing in the village.
Taken aback, Pastor T. Samuel, the district coordinator for Jesus Redeems Ministries, began answering their questions. As he spoke, one of the assailants hit Bhuria from behind. The mob then beat all five Christians.
Samuel tried to protect one of the injured men, and the assailants broke one of his hands. Another injured Christian managed to escape and used a public telephone to call for help.
Samuel later required surgery to repair his hand.
Family members and other villagers have since learned that village headman Sen Singh (also known as Patel) and two other village officials planned and instigated the attack.
Witnesses identified several of the attackers by name: Jam Singh Babur, Sabon Khelson, Jethra Vasuriya, Boocha Singh (Singh's son) and Singh's brother Kasan Him Ji.
On November 6, Singh and two other officials used a padlock to block access to the new church. They claimed the district collector had ordered the church closed.
Singh warned the Christians not to lodge a complaint, saying that if the collector gave orders for the church to be reopened, it would lead to more trouble for the Christian community.
Local Christians overcame their fear of Singh and approached police on November 7, but officers refused to file an official charge on the grounds that it could only be lodged by the victims. By this time the evangelists from Tamil Nadu had already left the area, and Samuel was in hospital receiving treatment.
A legal expert told Compass this requirement was an abuse of the law, since anyone can file a charge.
Singh and other residents then visited Bhuria’s home and threatened to "cut [him] into pieces" if he continued his Christian activity in the village. The same threats were issued to other church members.
Bhuria and several other men from the church have since fled the area, fearing for their lives.
V. Devdos, the leader of a local mission connected with Bhuria's church, told Compass he was unwilling to file a charges on Bhuria's behalf unless he returned to the village to give a statement.
Meanwhile, the new church remains empty and all Christian meetings are suspended in the village. Most Christians in Kakradara live in fear of further attacks.
Jhabua has a reputation for violence against Christians. In January 2004, when the body of a young Hindu girl named Sujata was found dumped on the grounds of a Catholic school, riots ensued. Hindu extremists gathered mobs and made provocative speeches, demanding the arrest of school staff. Banners insulting the Christian community appeared in neighboring villages, and several Christian homes and churches were ransacked or burned to the ground.
A few days after the murder, police arrested Manoj Jadhav, a Hindu who reportedly confessed to raping and killing Sujata, before throwing her body into the mission compound. (See Compass Direct, "Indian City in Uproar Over Death of 9-Year-Old Girl," January 22.)