Hindus opposed to pastor’s evangelistic efforts name him, three others.
NEW DELHI, August 31 (Compass Direct News) – Hindus opposed to a pastor in a village in Madhya Pradesh, India have falsely charged him and three other Christians in the murder of a young man killed in a gang fight between two clans, according to area Christians.
Pastor Kamlesh Tahed, 32, of Mehendi Kheda village, Jhabua district, told Compass he was not even in the village on Aug. 8, the day 22-year-old Roop Singh Baria was killed. Pastor Tahed, who spent 20 days in jail on false charges of “forcible conversion” in 2001 before a court declared him innocent, is in hiding.
“I was away in another village to pray for a sick person the day the murder took place,” Pastor Tahed told Compass.
Three other Christians from his clan – Kasna Tahed, 25, Ramesh Tahed, 26, and Vasna Tahed, 36 – are in police custody, also charged in the murder of Baria, of nearby Negadia village, even though they were not present at the site of the melee either, Pastor Tahed said.
“We four had nothing to do with the fight and murder,” Pastor Tahed told Compass. “The report that was filed in the police station had not only the names of the 13 suspects involved in the fight, but also the four Christians who were not even present at the site of the fight.”
He added that 10 of the 13 Hindus charged are in custody, and three are on “the run.”
All 17 men are booked under all the same charges – murder, rioting, rioting with a deadly weapon and unlawful assembly – with the courts to determine which charges actually apply to which suspects.
The murder came amid a mob fight after the Baria clan attacked the Tahed clan over 1,000 rupees (US$20) that one of the Tahed family members had borrowed, area Christians said. Members of the Baria clan filed the First Information Report (FIR) on the melee and named Pastor Tahed because he is a Christian leader, said another area pastor who has suffered the same fate.
Pastor Bahadur Baria of the same village’s opposing clan told Compass that in all previous conflicts – personal, religious or social – sympathizers of Hindu extremists falsely accuse area Christians as well as bait them into conflicts.
“There are RSS [Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sang] sympathizers living in both villages,” Pastor Baria said, “and they have inflamed the tribal Hindus to hook the Christian families into all rioting, murder, and other cases in the village so that the Christians are troubled from every side.”
Pastor Baria said what happened to Pastor Tahed also has happened to him; a member of the Tahed clan was murdered by a Baria clan gang, and his name appeared in the FIR. Only after a costly court process was he exonerated from murder charges, he said.
“This has not been once but every time something happens, the Christians are dragged into it,” he said.
Pastor Tahed said he used to participate in the clan conflicts before becoming a Christian.
“I once was one of them, but in the 20 years since I became a Christian, they have been dragging me into false cases and hate me for my work of evangelism,” he said. “They hooked me into a similar case in 2001 with additional charges of ‘forceful conversions,’ and I was behind bars for 20 days. Finally the court set me free as I was proved innocent.”
While Christian friends search for a lawyer to represent him and the three other Christians, Pastor Tahed has fled the area.
“These almost regular court procedures involve a lot of money, and being an evangelist with no fixed source of income, I cannot afford them,” he said.
In retaliation for the murder of Roop Singh Baria, two days later the Baria clan set on fire 12 houses of the Tahed clan, he added.
Pastor Tahed has a small plot of farmland as the only source of income by which he supports his wife, six children, parents and four children of his deceased elder brother, he said. Of the other three Christians charged, Kasna Tahed has three children, Ramesh Tahed has two and Vasna Tahed has three.
For the security of the families left behind, four police guards are posted Mehendi Kheda village and four at Negadia village.
“This is to prevent further mishaps in both the clans,” Pastor Tahed said.
Report from Compass Direct News