MUMBAI, September 8 - Hindu extremists investigating the activities of Varghese Thomas, an evangelist in Karnakata state, laid a trap for him on Sunday (September 3), before beating him and his wife. Thomas is 60 and his wife, Leelama, is 57.
At the end of August members of extremist Hindu groups in Subramanaya district began making discreet inquiries about Thomas and his ministry. They questioned his associates about reported conversions to Christianity taking place in Guttigar, Thomas' home village in the district.
Thomas had been preaching in Guttigar for the previous six months, establishing a small congregation that meets in a believer’s home.
Sensing that trouble might be brewing, Jyothi Premananda, a member of the local village council, called a meeting on Sunday (September 3) between Thomas and the Hindus who objected to his preaching in the village. The meeting was held in Premananda's house, about three kilometers (nearly two miles) from Thomas' home.
At around 7:30 p.m, Thomas and his wife left by car for the scheduled meeting. After traveling about half the distance, they saw the apparent victim of a motorcycle accident lying in the middle of the road, with a fallen motorcycle just a few meters away.
As it was dark, Thomas could not gauge the severity of the accident, so he left his car to assist the victim.
As soon as Thomas bent over the victim, however, the man threw red chili powder into his eyes, temporarily blinding him.
A group of around 15 Hindu extremists hiding in the bushes nearby then jumped out and assaulted Thomas.
"They pounced on me with sticks and wooden clubs," Thomas told Compass. "I couldn't even stand as they kept hitting me. They also accused me of tricking people into coming to the prayer meetings by promising them a better life."
Thomas insisted that while he had helped some of the poor Christian families who attended the meetings, he had never used financial or material assistance to pressure them to convert.
"I watched in horror as they attacked my husband," Leelama said. "I was helpless as there were so many of them."
The extremists also issued death threats to the couple during the attack. "One of them came up to the car and told me that both of us would face a cruel death if we continued to preach in the village," Leelama explained.
The mob then left – taking the couple's wristwatches and cash with them.
Thomas and Leelama filed a complaint at a local police station, but at press time no arrests had been made.
A few days earlier, on September 1, a group of around 25 extremists attacked Pastor John Prabhu of the Assembly of God church at Belthur, in Bangalore, dragging him out of a prayer service in a private home. They beat Prabhu and then took him to a nearby Hindu temple, where they forced him to bow before statues of Hindu deities – spitting on his face when he initially refused to get down on his knees.
The mob then took Prabhu to nearby Kadugodi police station, where he was detained for questioning.
Prabhu had been praying for a newborn baby in a church member's home when the attack took place.
According to Dr. Sajan George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), the mob brought a false witness to the police station to accuse Prabhu of attempted forced conversion. The police then held Prabhu for several hours, thus depriving him of medical treatment for his injuries.
Hindu extremists also attacked a pastor in Madhya Pradesh on September 2.
Pastor Shanti Lal was arrested in his home for conducting prayer services and detained at the Gogawan police station in Khargon district. Following pressure from the GCIC, the charge of attempted forced conversion was finally dropped, but other charges under the Indian Penal Code were retained.
Fellow pastor Patras Habil said Lal had been conducting prayer services in his house church since 2001 without incident.
"He was arrested on Saturday night and could not be granted bail on Sunday, so he was detained until Monday morning," Habil said. “Then he was released on a bond of 5,000 rupees (US$108).
Local Christians say a recent surge in such incidents may have been triggered by changes to the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act.