Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Preacher Murdered in Andhra Pradesh, India

Police say revenge is most likely reason for homicide; family points to Hindu extremists.

NEW DELHI, June 12 (Compass Direct) - The body of Prem Kumar, a 67-year-old preacher from the Church of South India, was found last Thursday (June 8) in a forest in Nizamabad district of Andhra Pradesh state.

Kumar’s head was crushed beyond recognition, apparently with heavy stones, the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported.

A sub-inspector of the Kotagiri police station said the body was identified based on the description of the clothes worn by the preacher.

According to local media reports, a young man approached Kumar early Thursday morning requesting that he hold a prayer meeting in Rampur Thanda village later that day. Although Kumar suspected foul play, he agreed and asked his son Sunil Kumar to call his cell phone once every 30 minutes.

When Kumar arrived at the pick-up point, strangers were waiting to meet him. Kumar phoned his son and again asked him to call frequently.

Kumar's cell phone went dead at about 11 a.m. His body was later found in the forest near Rampur Thanda.

Extremists Suspected

Mahesh Chandra Laddha, superintendent of police in Nizamabad, told Compass that personal rivalry was the motive for the murder of Kumar. "There is definitely no religious angle," he insisted.

Laddha said Kumar was one of the accused in a murder case and that relatives of the victim could be behind the killing. He also claimed that, some time ago, Kumar's son had been involved in a kidnapping, and that after the kidnapped woman was released she had threatened him.

Kumar's son, however, said his father had no enemies, and he strongly suspected the hand of Hindu extremists. He also said he could identify the person who invited his father to hold the prayer meeting in Rampur Thanda.

The GCIC and the All India Christian Council said the involvement of Hindu extremists could not be ruled out. A number of similar incidents have occurred in Andhra Pradesh over the past six years, and at press time religious tensions in the state were high.

May 2005 Murders

Pastors K. Isaac Raju and K. Daniel were brutally murdered near the state capital, Hyderabad, in May of last year. (See Compass Direct, "Second Pastor Found Dead in Andhra Pradesh, India," June 6, 2005.)

Unknown persons called both pastors by phone before they disappeared, asking if they would act as wedding celebrants. Raju went to meet a caller in Anantpur district on May 24, 2005 and disappeared; an unidentified caller then phoned the police on June 2, describing where to find Raju's body.

Meanwhile, callers collected Daniel in a motorized rickshaw on May 21 and took him to a cemetery in Karwan, where they beat him severely before strangling him and dumping his body on the city outskirts.

An anonymous letter was sent to a local newspaper claiming the murders were carried out by an organization called the Anti-Christian Forum. The letter promised further killings.

An article in the New Indian Express on June 27, 2005, quoted a man identified only as Goverdhan, who along with his two friends allegedly murdered the two preachers. "I am not against Christianity, but Raju and Daniel converted hundreds of Hindu families," Goverdhan said. "They enticed them with money. We have done this to prevent further conversions. This act should be a lesson for others."

September 2000 Murder
Pastor Yesu Dasu, 52, was killed in a similar fashion in the state in 2000.

Two people riding a motorbike came to his home on the evening of September 11 and asked for Dasu, saying someone wanted to speak with him.

Assailants then took Dasu to the outskirts of Mustabad in Karimnagar district. They bound his hands together and hit him repeatedly with an axe, eventually severing his head.

Dasu's body was found in a pool of blood at a cattle shed near Kothakunta, along the Mustabad-Siddipet highway, three kilometers (nearly two miles) from Karimnagar. Several pieces of the body were found scattered at the murder scene.

Extremists had earlier warned Dasu to cease preaching or face the consequences. (See Compass Direct, "Murder of Christian Preacher Remains Unsolved in India," October 10, 2003.)

Andhra Pradesh state is ruled by the Congress Party, with Dr. Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, a Christian, as the chief minister. Hindu extremists have accused Reddy of giving a free hand to Christian missionaries in the state.