By Santosh Digal, BosNewsLife Asia Correspondent reporting from India
CHENNAI, INDIA (BosNewsLife)-- New details emerged Saturday, May 5, about a reported massive attack on 15 Christian evangelists in India's southernmost Tamil Nadu state and other violence that has left several believers injured.
Local believers said some 100 suspected activists of the hardline Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, or 'Indian People's Party' (BJP), beat the evangelists, burned Bibles and evangelistic leaflets, seized their car and destroyed their megaphone.
The April 21 violence in the Paganeri village of Shivagangai municipality was allegedly instigated by local leaders, identified as A. Raja and Chidambaram.
BJP officials did not comment on the incident. After initially refusing to intervene, police later arrived to arrange an agreement between the assailants and victims with the help of a village head, Christians said.
The Hindu militants reportedly returned the seized vehicle to a pastor leading the group, known only as Jessudoss, but later returned and beat him, according to local villagers.
CHRISTIANS ATTACKED AGAIN?
"They told Christians they would not hesitate to attack them again."
This was no isolated incident. On April 11 in Emapur village of the state's Villupuram district, Hindu extremists allegedly beat up another pastor and pressured his landlord to send him out from his rented accommodation where he was also holding worship services.
Hindu militants were seen beating and verbally abusing the pastor, known as Caleb, who was on his way to preach in the village.
Next day April 12, Christians were also attacked in the neighboring coastal state of Andhra Pradesh by activists of another hard-line Hindu party, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or 'National Volunteer Organization' (RSS).
During the attack in the city of Kakinada in East Godavari District, the Hindu mob tied and stabbed a pastor’s son, and beat the pastor and his wife, claimed the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), a major umbrella organization of evangelical churches and groups.
"EXTREMISTS" RAID HOME
"The extremists went to the home of the pastor, identified only as Ratnababu, and urgently asked for him. When his son, Madhu, opened the door, the RSS members pounced on him, stuffed his mouth with cloth and tied his hands and legs," EFI said.
"One of the Hindu extremists sprinkled chili powder in Madhu’s eyes, and they lacerated his ankle and other parts of his body. Then they started beating the pastor and his wife," the group added.
The Hindu militants also attempted to set fire to the house but fled when a neighbor arrived, Christians said.
Pastor Madhu and others identified the assailants and named them in their complaint, but local police reportedly filed a case only against "unknown persons". Though police did not comment, local police officers and are known to have been pressured by several hardline groups to cooperate with them.
In some cases, police and local authorities have also been seen cracking down on devoted Christians for allegedly "forced conversions" of majority Hindus, charges evangelicals strongly deny.
PREVIOUS DEATH THREATS
Pastor Ratnababum, who was treated for his injuries at a local hospital, was previously attacked for his work at the local Christu Asinadu Prarthana Mandir Church, where he has served for 15 years, according to rights investigators.
He previously received several "death threats and survived three attempts to burn his church building," explained the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), an influential advocacy group.
Rights activists claim RSS members "have manipulated the police into arresting the pastor two times" in the last six months.
An unidentified attorney "has petitioned" the Andhra Pradesh High Court to stop what the lawyer called "the violation of religious rights and personal safety of the pastor and his family," trial observers said. The alleged reluctance of officials to intervene and prevent more violence "has traumatized" the 500-plus members of the congregation, Christians added.
These incidents are viewed by rights group as part of a wider anti-Christian campaign by groups who oppose the spread of Christianity in this heavily Hindu nation.