Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Local Politician Incites Attack on Christians in India

Pregnant woman in Chhattisgarh state among six beaten for their faith.

MUMBAI, India, November 13 (Compass Direct News) - During a panchayat or village council meeting convened last Thursday (November 9) to address threats against Christians in a village in Chhattisgarh state, a local politician and his associates attacked six believers, including a pregnant woman.

The incident took place in Bamhni village, in Bastar district. Puran Patel, who has strong connections with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state, has subjected Christians in the village to harassment and humiliation for more than a year, according to local sources.

"The believers in Bamhni have been terrorized by Patel for the past year," Pastor Pramod Paul of the local Brethren Assembly said. "He has threatened me, too, and warned me to keep away from the village."

The council meeting was convened after Christian residents appealed to panchayat members for protection.

A week earlier, on November 3, Patel and a few other Hindu associates had confronted 27-year-old Ashok Baghel, an evangelist from neighboring Mardapal village, as he waited at the bus stop. Baghel was returning home from a prayer meeting in Bamhni.

"They had rods in their hands," Baghel explained. "One of them raised his hand clutching a bicycle pump. He was ready to strike me, saying 'Stop coming here to spread your faith among these villagers!'"

Baghel's bus arrived at that moment, and he was able to jump on and escape harm.

On November 5, Patel and his associates gathered around the prayer hall in Bamhni village as the Christians assembled for Sunday worship and verbally abused them. The frightened Christians appealed to the village council for protection, with little response.

On November 8 (Wednesday), the Christians wrote a letter to the village council, asking members to address the threatening situation.

Attacked Instead of Protected
The village council called both parties to a meeting at 3 p.m. on Thursday (November 9). When all had gathered, the council chief read out the complaint letter submitted by the believers.

Witnesses said Patel then stood up and shouted at the Christians, using abusive and derogatory language.

He then walked over to them and began slapping them. His associates joined in, hitting both men and women in the group.

The village council remained mute as they watched the attack.

Patel and his friends severely beat Anup Mandavi, Mani Korram, Jaisingh Patel and Krishna Patel. They also pushed Havan Patel, the wife of Krishna Patel, against a wall - and kicked Sukbati Mandavi, the pregnant wife of Anup Mandavi, in the stomach.

When the Christians fled to nearby Kondagaon police station, the policemen refused to help them. "Even though the marks of the beatings were clearly visible, the police would not file a complaint," Arun Pannalal, general secretary of the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum, told Compass.

On Friday (November 10), Pannalal called the police station and asked why the police had refused to listen to the Christians’ complaint. He also said the Christian Forum would hold demonstrations throughout the district if the complaint was not treated seriously.

In response, officer-in-charge G. S. Johar filed a formal complaint against Patel. Johar also told Compass that investigations were underway and said the Christians had been sent for a medical examination.

At press time, however, no arrests had been made.