Theology Student Dies in Attack in Madhya Pradesh, India

Hindu extremists raid revival meeting in one area, while others attack gospel event in another.

NEW DELHI, April 27 (CDN) — Hindu extremists raided Christian events in India’s Madhya Pradesh state this month, leaving a visiting theology student dead and several other Christians injured.

The body of 23-year-old Amit Gilbert was recovered from a water well 25 feet from the site of a Christian revival meeting that 15 to 20 Hindu extremists attacked on April 17 in Gram Fallaiya, Post Pathakheda, Betul district. With covered heads and carrying iron rods and bamboo clubs, members of the Hindu extremist Dharam Sena and Bajrang Dal cut electricity at the night-time event and began striking, sending the more than 400 in attendance running, Christian leaders said.

Eyewitnesses said the assailants chased Gilbert, of Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh state, and beat him mainly on his legs. Police in the state controlled by the Hindu extremist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said that for the moment they believe Gilbert accidentally fell into the well amid the chaos, but Christians present said that is unlikely.

His body was found with his head and legs submerged in the 1.5-meter deep water of the well, yet he had no water in his lungs or stomach when Christians drew him out, said Pastor Santwan Lal, organizer of the April 15-17 revival event, suggesting that Gilbert was dead before being thrown in. 

“Amit was hit first and then picked up and thrown into the well,” Pastor Lal said. “If he had fallen into the well, he would have had more bruises and at least a broken bone or two, since the well is rocky and narrow. But that was not the case.”

Pastor Lal and others Compass spoke with said they believe the posture of the body leaves no doubt that Gilbert was murdered.

“He sustained an injury on the left side of his face near the ear,” Pastor Lal added.

An autopsy was conducted, but authorities are not disclosing findings, Pastor Lal said. Hindu extremists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Bajrang Dal are reportedly exerting intense pressure on local authorities.

Betul Assistant Sub-Inspector Santosh Jain told Compass that the results of the autopsy, conducted by a team of doctors, will not be released because they have now become politicized.

Police on April 19 arrested nine people in connection with the incident and charged them with rioting, violence and trespassing, but not murder. Officers also registered Gilbert’s death under the Section 174 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which pertains to inquiry and report on an incident involving death of a person whether suicide or otherwise.

“We are trying hard, but this case does not seem to be moving forward,” Jain said. “A report has been registered against 10 to 12 [initially] unidentified people, and we have so far arrested nine. All have accepted their involvement in the crime, and all belong to the Bajrang Dal. Not one of them is a local from Betul. Their bails have been rejected at the lower court.”

Arrested were Rakesh Dhurwe, Neeraj Rajput, Radheshyam Sahu, Sonu Rajput, Raju Kahar, Rajesh Oriya, Raju Deshmukh, Arun Thackrey, and Hemrath Bahalavi, he said.

Though police have initially determined that Gilbert fell into the well, they say they are open to the possibility that he was thrown into it.

Pastor Lal added that two women were also injured in the melee.

“As a result of the violence, two ladies attending the meeting were hit, and one of them was admitted in a local hospital for three days,” he said.

Christian leaders said Betul has increasingly witnessed such attacks since the BJP came to power in the state in 2004, with various incidents of Christians being beaten, arrested and intimidated.

The April 17 attack was sudden and without provocation or warning, Pastor Lal said. Soon after the assailants left, the Christians gathered to determine if anyone were missing. An unnamed girl and a nephew of the pastor were missing but later found, and that night Gilbert’s body was found when a Christian shined a flashlight into the well.

Gilbert was visiting as a volunteer to another pastor after having finished his Masters in Divinity degree from Central India Bible College, Itarsi, Madhya Pradesh, in March. He had reportedly insisted on staying to help Pastor Abhishek John in Sallaiya village in order to gain ministry experience.

Sources said April 17 was to have been Gilbert’s last day of volunteer service, as he was planning to return home to Uttar Pradesh the next day.

Rampage in Balaghat

In Balaghat on April 14 and 15, Hindu extremists attacked a three-day gospel meeting with fuel-bombs in spite of the presence of police summoned beforehand to provide security.

Prior to the event attended by 10,000 people in Balaghat’s Mulna stadium, local newspapers carried open threats issued by the Bajrang Dal and BJP workers against the Christian community. On April 14Bajrang Dal members threw two fuel-bombs into the stadium that did not explode.

“They had hurled petrol bombs even in the presence of the police,” Saurabh Panduria, a local Christian doctor, told Compass. “Thankfully it did not explode, or anything could have happened as there were many women, children and sick people in the crowd.”

The next day Bajrang Dal and the BJP workers attacked the event as well as the quarters where people who had come from outside Balaghat to attend the meetings were staying, including Kamla Nehru hall.

Police increased security for the April 15 meeting, but as it was drawing to a close about 150 BJP andBajrang Dal members surrounded the stadium. Some of them tried to storm in, but police repelled them. Hindu extremists responded by pelting them with stones and throwing fuel bombs at police vehicles. They also attempted to destroy stadium property.

Bajrang Dal workers Golu Thakre and Manu Yadav were among those who harassed participants at an afternoon meeting on April 15, said Dr. Amos Singh of Jeevan Jyoti Ministries in Balaghat.

“Darbari and Ganesh from Barai village in Mandla, Madhya Pradesh, and Sunil Jagne from Gondia, Maharashtra, were severely beaten by the Bajrang Dal people, and they were interrogated like they were criminals,” Singh said. “The police arrived later.”

At 5 p.m. extremists caught hold of some Christians and forced them to the BJP local office in Balaghat, where BJP and Bajrang Dal members assaulted at least three of them.

Police arrested nearly 23 Bajrang Dal members, including eight leaders. This prompted BJP Member of Parliament K.D. Deshmukh and Member of Legislative Assembly Ramesh Bhatere to lead a mob that surrounded the police station and protested throughout the night, loudly shouting slogans against the administration and the Christian community.

About 1,000 to 1,500 BJP and Bajrang Dal supporters fanned throughout Balaghat, bunching particularly around a bus stand and railway station and damaging at least three vehicles, including ones belonging to a senior police officer and an ex-Member of Parliament, Ashok Singh Saraswat. The mob attempted to set fire to buses from Maharashtra state transport corporation.

Since most of those attending the meeting were outsiders, the Bajrang Dal members descended on the railway station and bus stand and harassed passengers and broke property, damaging both buses and railway coaches, Singh said. If the extremists found a Bible in the luggage of people at the railway station and bus stand, they attacked them, he said.

“Christians who were returning from the meeting and attempting to get away from Balaghat as soon as possible were attacked and beaten with sticks and pelted with stones,” Singh said. “Women workers of the BJP attacked Christian women staying in Sindhi Dharamshala [hall], and some Christians who had come from Gondia and other places from nearby Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh had to flee for their lives, leaving behind their luggage in the Kamla Nehru hall and other places where they were put up.”

Pastor Kamlesh Nagpure said that he and his family were stuck in the stadium, unable to go to their home outside the city limits of Balaghat.

“People were driven to safety in tractors and private cars following the ruckus, and they were attacked even till early morning, 4 a.m.,” he said. “The attackers used large sticks to rough people up and indulged in brick throwing, which also damaged some vehicles. Some of us who could not get a safe ride outside town limits were forced to stay inside the stadium the whole night. Most of the crowd was composed of women and children.”

Christian leaders reportedly said the mob also damaged a Catholic church in Balaghat and attempted to attack other church buildings and houses belonging to Christian leaders. They threw fuel-bombs at the house of the Rev. Arvind Deep, where several participants had taken refuge that night.

At last the administration was forced to impose a curfew until April 17, even as the BJP declared a total shutdown of market and other activities on April 16 and 17 as part of their protest.

“Targeting participants of the meeting and beating and intimidating them continued till 10 a.m. on April 16,” Singh told Compass. “Many Christians have fled Balaghat out of fear and have gone to live with their relatives.”

Eight people who were arrested on April 15 were reportedly released the next morning.

Report from Compass Direct News 

Baby Hit By Train in Melbourne

There was a bizarre incident in Melbourne today when a baby was hit by a train at a railway station. As a mother adjusted her pants, the pram rolled off the station platform and a train passed over the top. Fears were held for the baby, but amazingly the baby escaped with just a slight knock to the head.


With Orissa still reeling, violence in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh shocks believers.

NEW DELHI, September 8 (Compass Direct News) – Still reeling from violence in Orissa state, India’s Christians suffered major blows in two other states over the weekend.

As the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) revised its estimate of deaths from the last two weeks of violence in Orissa state from “more than 100” to 53 today, Christians in Ratlam, Madhya Pradesh were shocked when suspected Hindu extremists yesterday burned down the 86-year-old St. Bartholomew Church of North India.

Christian leaders said suspected members of the Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP) burned down the venerable church after parishioners had elaborately decorated it for its 86th anniversary. VHP members are also responsible for ongoing violence in Orissa state following the killing of a state VHP leader, Laxmanananda Saraswati, and four of his associates in Kandhamal district on August 23.

Thousands of houses, churches and institutions have been damaged or destroyed in the violence that began after VHP members led a funeral procession of Saraswati’s body to stir up anti-Christian sentiment. Maoists have since claimed responsibility for the murders, but the Hindu extremist groups continue to blame Christians.

Damages to the St. Bartholomew church building in Ratlam were estimated at US$18,000. It was the only English-language church in the district, with most of its members senior citizens and retired railway employees.

VHP and Bajrang Dal leaders have denied the allegations against them, claiming the church building caught fire due to a short circuit. But local Christians said a short circuit could not have led to a fire of the more than five hours needed to burn down the entire structure.

“The entire episode was planned and carried out by the VHP and Bajrang Dal,” Lalu Stephen, district president of the Madhya Pradesh Isai Mahasangh, an umbrella body of Christian organizations, said in a statement. “We have no doubt about their involvement in the entire episode.”

The investigating officer in Ratlam, Manish Agarwal, said police are investigating the church building fire and do not know whether the VHP or Bajrang Dal are involved.

Christians were further stunned when police presented the watchman of the church, Noel Pare, before media late at night accepting blame for the crime. The mother of the watchman, Rosy Pare, subsequently stated in an affidavit that her son, daughter-in-law and grandchild were sleeping at home when the incident took place.

She further said in the legal document that it was police who woke Noel Pare to inform him that the church was on fire. Pare, along with his wife, was taken to the police station for questioning, with his wife later released. After a few hours, local Christian leaders were called to the police station to be told that the watchman had accepted responsibility for the crime.

Rosy Pare claimed that police concocted the scheme to protect the real culprits.

Father Anand Muttungal of the Madhya Pradesh Catholic Bishops Conference of India said the conference will set up an independent committee headed by a retired High Court judge to include journalists, social activists and leaders from various religions to investigate.

“The members will be declared soon,” he said. “Police are trying to save the culprits and put the blame on the Christian community. We will not tolerate this attempt by the police.”

According to the police’s own report, at least 200 liters of kerosene were used to burn the church building.

“It cannot be the work of one man only,” Fr. Muttungal told Compass. “Clearly the police are trying to hide the facts here. The arrest of the church watchman is an attempt to malign the community. Every time it is done, and this time it was planned.”

Hindu extremists have a history of violence in the area. Most recently, on August 15, VHP and Bajrang Dal members attacked a youth meeting in Ratlam after a neighbor complained, said pastor Jose Mathew of Ratlam.

“They beat up many participants,” including a pastor, his wife and the district manager of World Vision, Mathew said. “Later the police without any enquiry charged them with attempted forcible conversion.”


Nuns Assaulted

In Chhattisgarh state, on Friday (September 5) about 20 Bajrang Dal extremists boarded a train at the Durgh railway station and took four babies 1 to 2 months old from two nuns of the Missionaries of Charity and from two women helpers. Subsequently the Hindu extremists beat a nun and a driver sent to help.

The nuns and two women helpers on the train were taking the babies from Raipur to the Shishu Bhava charity center in Bhopal when the Hindu extremists forced their way into the train shouting anti-Christian slogans. Christian sources said the extremists snatched the babies and left the train, with the nuns compelled to come after them.

Accusing the nuns of forced conversion, the Hindu extremist mob handed them over to the Government Railway Police (GRP). When one of the two sisters, identified as Sister Mamta, requested that she be allowed to make a phone call to get legal help, police flatly refused. After much pleading she was able to make a phone call to the archbishop from the mobile phone of a visiting officer.

The archbishop promptly sent two nuns in an ambulance along with a driver to the Durgh railway station to assist the nuns. But before they could reach the station, they were sighted and surrounded by the Bajrang Dal mob outside the railway station.

One of the arriving nuns, identified as Sister Laboure, and the driver of the ambulance were mercilessly beaten in public view by the mob. The Hindu extremists continued to shout anti-Christian slogans even as they were beating and threatening to kill the nun and driver.

Subsequently the GRP took the two arriving nuns and the driver into custody, and they were kept in the police station for five hours, with the wounds and other injuries of Sister Laboure and the driver unattended. The next morning police escorted the nuns to their respective convents. Reportedly Sister Laboure was later admitted in a hospital for treatment of her injuries.

The babies were not returned to the nuns but rather taken to a government hospital, where they remained at press time.

Fr. Muttungal said local newspaper Hari Bhoomi later covered the incident of the beating “and used very derogatory language, which is quite insensitive.”

In Orissa state, the GCIC confirmed that on August 25 VHP extremists killed three Christians at a place known as Jarginaju: Pastor Fitham Nayak, 62; Madan Nayak, 62; and Nathura Nayak, 60. The GCIC reported that before killing them, the Hindu extremists asked them to reconvert to Hinduism, killing them when they refused.



In Karnataka state, Christians leaders reported that about 30 attackers on motorcycles and in an SUV stormed into a church served yesterday and abducted pastor R. Babu.

After disrupting the service in Mulbagal, Kolar district by tearing up Bibles, hymnals and curtains and beating church members, the attackers carried Pastor Babu to a temple about five kilometers (three miles) away and forced him to observe Hindu rituals.

They released him only after he gave a written declaration in front of the police at Mulbagal police station stating that he would not go back to the village or continue any church activities.

Report from Compass Direct News