Police arrested Christians who were attacked by Hindu nationalists in Tamil Nadu state, India, then tried to portray the incident as a fight between two parties, sources said.
The Hindu extremists savagely beat four Christians, including a woman whose hand they fractured, for conducting a pre-Christmas charity event for destitute widows, sources said. After Hindu extremists in Coimbatore District attacked the Christians on Dec. 9, officers at the Periyanaickenpalayam police station took Pastor Vinodh Kumar, 38, into custody.
"The police are attempting to show the incident as a fight between Christians and Hindus in a way so it protects the attackers," Pastor Kumar told Morning Star News. "They want to say there was exchange of words and that both parties quarrelled, so that they have taken me into custody. But it is not true. I was beaten, but they took me into custody instead of arresting the attackers."
On Dec. 7, two days before the event, Karthik Chandran, pastor of a church in Mathampalayam, went to the Periyanaickenpalayam police station along with his mentor, Pastor Kumar, to hand an invitation to police and inform them about the church's pre-Christmas activities. The inspector was unavailable, but the head constable received their printed invitation card, Pastor Chandran told Morning Star News.
"We made bulk purchase of sarees and shirts to distribute them to the poor, aged and widows," Pastor Chandran said. "They were gathering in our church premises, but all of a sudden the Hindu Munnani activists barged inside."
Hindu Munnani is an extremist group in Tamil Nadu fighting to keep Hinduism as the only religion in India. About 20 Hindu Munnani extremists from Mathampalayam led by Nanda Kumar, 35, Chandra Sekar and Sasi Kumar, both 37, stormed into the church site of the event at about 10:30 a.m., he said.
"They came with steel rods and big stones and started beating us," Pastor Chandran said.
As the extremists were delivering blows to the pastors and 25-year-old Arun Kumar, who was assisting the church leaders, a 55-year-old woman who is a member of the church hurried to help them.
"But the attackers were very aggressive - they beat her also, and she is suffering fractures in her hand," Pastor Chandran said.
Sharing in Christ's Sufferings
Pastor Chandran, a 30-year-old father of two who sustained a serious head wound, said the attack has strengthened his family's faith.
"I am very joyful that I have been persecuted for Christ's sake," he told Morning Star News, adding that the Hindu extremists caused at least 200,000 rupees (US$3,116) in damages in the attack. "The extremists broke the music equipment, chairs and glass windows into pieces. I have forgiven my attackers, and I am to proclaim Christ even more boldly after this incident. This has actually made me and my family stronger in faith."
They assailants used foul language as they beat them, Pastor Chandran said. Pastor Kumar said the attack was video-recorded.
"That makes it easy for the police to identify the accused, but they are refusing to make progress in the investigation," Pastor Kumar told Morning Star News.
The Christians submitted photos and videos of the assault to officers, who registered a First Information Report (FIR) against the assailants and filed charges against them for rioting, criminal trespass and causing hurt, among others.
"But the police did not make any arrests so far," Pastor Kumar said. "They arrested three or four men who are not related to the attack. We are not sure what the police are up to."
Pastor Kumar was released on bail at the police station at around 1:30 a.m., but an FIR was not issued and the charges are not known.
A source who requested anonymity said the inspector of police, Vetrivel Murugan, appeared to be prejudiced against the Christians, telling a colleague that the church members were "trying to convert a dwelling place into a religious place."
"These people started prayers as once a month, and now they started to have regular prayers," Murugan said, according to the source. "I told the Tahsildar and RDO [Revenue Divisional Officer], 'Sir, please grant me permission; I will go, arrest all the Christians and will be back.' They are acting as if they are innocent people, they are shouting hallelujah this and that."
"The investigation is very biased," the source said. "The police themselves appear to be Hindu activists."
Pastor Kumar, who leads a church in Coimbatore city, told Morning Star News that when officers took him into custody, he told them Christians were not second-class citizens and were free to celebrate faith-based activities. The pastor told them the Christians were careful not to disturb area residents with loud worship.
Police responded by telling him to obtain permission from the local collector's office before holding worship services, he said. The pastor replied that the collector only lets requests sit on his desk.
"The revenue officials did not send any notice in writing since they have no right to tell someone, 'You should not worship your God,'" Pastor Kumar said. "So they only orally demanded we shut down the church."
Police gave no indication that there was anything illegal about the event when they received the invitation to it, nor did they provide any protection despite knowing how churches have been attacked over the last few months in Tamil Nadu, sources said.
Deputy Superintendent of Police M. Gunasekaran denied the attack on the Christians.
"I am the police authority, I can tell you these all are false news promoted by the news agencies and media people," he told Morning Star News. "They are showing innocent people as guilty. The videos are false. There is no threat for anyone in Periyanaickenpalayam."
The Hindu Munnani did not deny the attack. T. Velengo, general secretary of Hindu Munnani, told Morning Star News that in many places in Tamil Nadu, new churches are springing up and loudly worshipping Jesus.
"Everybody is shouting in megaphones, there is lot of disturbance and sound pollution," he said. "Many people started complaining to the police. Moreover, after getting the approval to construct a residential building, Christians are converting them to mass worship places. We took this matter to the collectorate and government authorities."
But Velengo denied that Hindu Munnani was working with the state government to close churches.
"No, we are not helping the government - we are helping the people, and we are trying to stop the conversions," Velengo said. "Once a church comes up in one particular place and starts preaching about Christianity, they invite children in the surrounding area and teach the Bible. They start giving some fruits or money or biscuits, chocolates to small boys and girls. The children go there for the snacks, and over the period, the children return to their own houses and after seeing their own gods they say, 'These are all devils, not gods.' That is why people are agitating."
Asked if Tamil Nadu officials were aware that Hindu Munnani was working to close churches, Velengo said officials were indeed aware.
"Yes, the government knows everything, not just about Coimbatore District but about the Christian activities all across Tamil Nadu, and the activities of Hindu Munnani," he said. "Because they have huge funding from many countries abroad, the missionaries are involving themselves in active mode."
Denouncing the attack on the charity event, the Synod of Pentecostal Churches on Saturday (Dec. 16) decried the "apparent complicity of the authorities."
"Is it too much to expect that the perpetrators of violence against Christians would be prevented from systematically and consistently continuing their nefarious and illegal activities with impunity?" the statement read.
The synod noted that there have been 15 incidents of hostility against Christians in Tamil Nadu state by Hindu nationalists in the past three months, and more than 60 in the past two years.
Pastor Chandran said he has known persecution from an early age. Raised in a Hindu family, he put his faith in Christ when he was 14 years old. While attending a service in his village of Ooty as a boy, Hindu extremists stormed the service and began beating him and others.
His family also beat him, demanding he leave Christianity, he said.
Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, the hostile tone of his National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), against non-Hindus has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians, religious rights advocates say.
India ranked 15th on Christian support organization Open Doors' 2017 World Watch List of the countries where Christians experience the most persecution.