NEW DELHI, June 12 – A mob of Hindu extremists on Friday (June 8) beat a pastor and tried to set him on fire before parading him naked in the suburbs of Bangalore, capital of Karnataka state.
Laxmi Narayan Gowda, an independent pastor and representative of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), was recovering in a hospital at press time with swelling and numerous bruises.
The incident took place at about 7 p.m. in Hessarghatta, about 30 kilometers from Bangalore, when a group of about 50 people barged into the pastor’s house
and threatened him with violence unless he moved out of the area, said Sam Joseph, a Karnataka-based leader of the All India Christian Council (AICC).
The group returned with 100 more people shortly after
, cornered Pastor Gowda in a room in his house, and began assaulting him in front of his wife and two small children.
Extremists of the Bajrang Dal, youth wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP or World Hindu Council), allegedly led the mob.
One of the assailants threw kerosene on the pastor, and others started burning Bibles.
Someone tossed a burning Bible onto Pastor Gowda, but miraculously he did not catch fire, Joseph told Compass.
The extremists then stripped the pastor naked
and hung a board around his neck that said, “I am the one who was converting people,” before parading him through the area
“By this time, the mob had swollen to about 1,000
, as more people joined in to harass and torture the pastor,” Joseph added.
Local police arrived about an hour later, after one of the pastor’s relatives called them by telephone.
The assailants burned at least 250 Bibles
and also vandalized furniture and equipment.
Police had not registered a case against the attackers at press time.
When Compass spoke to Inspector R. Malesh of the Soladevanhalli police station, he said the victim did not want to file a complaint.
“We have requested the Christians to give us a complaint in writing, but they do not want to press charges against the attackers,” he said.
Malesh claimed that the mob consisted of local people who did not belong to any Hindu extremist groups. Some of Pastor Gowda’s neighbors attacked, he said, because they do not want Christian prayers and meetings to take place in his house.
A local source, however, told Compass on condition of anonymity that the attack was pre-planned and directed by an unidentified lawyer
. The lawyer suggested to the crowd that if they hit the pastor as a mob, then there would be no possibility of prosecution,
said the source.
Before Pastor Gowda accepted Christ about 15 years ago, the source said, he was a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the parent organization of numerous Hindu extremist groups in India.
“The attackers seemingly wanted to punish Pastor Gowda for converting to Christianity from their Hindu nationalistic ideology, and warn others against dong so,”
added the source.
Pastor Gowda has been working in the area for the last 12 years. The source also said the pastor was firm in his faith following the attack.
Dr. Sam Paul, AICC’s public affairs secretary, said that although Karnataka was known for anti-Christian attacks, the situation has become more volatile in the state since the Janata Dal-Secular party, in coalition with the Hindu nationalistic Bharatiya Janata Party, took power from the Congress Party in February 2006.
“Extremists in Karnataka are emboldened as the police usually turn up after the incident,” he said. “There are also times when the police encourage anti-social elements to harass Christians.”
Paul also stressed the need to educate India’s people about true conversion, in particular that it does not mean that one becomes anti-national.
Dr. Sajan K. George, national president of the GCIC, told Compass that he was thankful to God for saving the life of one of his organization’s representatives.