INDIA: HINDU EXTREMISTS SUSPECTED IN MURDER OF PRIEST


Body found in Andhra Pradesh state with 30 stab wounds, broken skull.

NEW DELHI, August 19 (Compass Direct News) – Christian leaders in Andhra Pradesh suspect the grisly murder of a Catholic priest was the work of Hindu extremists and that police have prematurely ruled out that possibility.

The battered body of Father Thomas Pandipally was found lying on a roadside in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh early on Sunday (August 17). The 38-year-old priest from the Carmelite of Mary Immaculate (CMI) order was killed while he was traveling by motorbike from the Lingampet area to Yellareddy village in Nizamabad district after 9:30 p.m. on August 16, reported Indian Catholic News Service (ICNS).

Fr. Pandipally, who was also the manager of a local school run by the CMI order, was to conduct the Sunday mass at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Yellareddy the following morning.

Nizamabad Superintendent of Police Rajesh Kumar told Compass that the murder had no religious motive. “There is communal harmony, and there has been no communal incident in the district at all,” he said.

There are only two possible angles in the murder case, Kumar said.

“One, the school where Fr. Pandipally was working is doing very well, and it also has a dispute with another school,” he said. “Second, Fr. Pandipally had expelled the driver of a school bus over some dispute on his salary.”

But the Rev. Father Alex Thannippara, a provincial superior of the CMI order, said he was in “complete disagreement” with Kumar’s claim of communal harmony in the area.

The Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) and the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (All India Students’ Council or ABVP, student wing of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party) are all violently active in Nizamabad, Fr. Thannippara said.

He pointed out that on January 16 a mob of around 500 people led by ABVP workers prevented the Hyderabad archbishop from blessing the new building of an HIV/AIDS care center run by the Franciscan Clarist Congregation (FCC) sisters in Lingampet.

“The crowd also indulged in vandalism and demolished a statue of Mother Mary,” Fr. Thannippara said. “The police had to lock up the building and take the keys with them to pacify the crowd.”

He added that the tensions erupted despite the support of district authorities for the center.

“Later, the FCC sisters filed a suit in the court of law against the protestors,” Fr. Thannippara said. “And the sisters started receiving threats on phone that if they did not withdraw the case, some members of their communities would be attacked.”

The school where the slain priest was working was also targeted around two years ago. “A huge crowd led by RSS supporters gathered around the school and tried to parade the then-principal naked under flimsy pretexts, but the police protected him,” he said.

Fr. Thannippara said the school had no dispute with any other school, though he acknowledged that other schools may be jealous of the CMI order. He added that Fr. Pandipally didn’t ask the school bus driver to leave but only refused to raise his salary.

When school workers heard about Fr. Pandipally’s murder, all staff members came except the driver, he said, but “that does not necessarily mean he is the culprit.”

“Fr. Pandipally was very humble,” Fr. Thannippara said. “Why should anyone kill him so brutally, I can’t understand.”

According to ICNS, there were more than 30 stab injuries on Fr. Pandipally’s body, especially in the abdomen.

“His head was hit with sticks and boulders, and the skull was split open,” ICNS reported. “All over his face, on his eyes, lips and cheeks, deep wounds were found. His motorcycle was thrown in bushes about four kilometers away. He was done to death in the forest, and his body was brought back and thrown in the middle of the road.”

ICNS also reported that Fr. Pandipally received a phone call inquiring when he was leaving for Yellareddy.

Archbishop Marampudi Joji of Hyderabad has also linked the murder to growing intolerance against Christians in parts of India.

“The Indian church is shocked and deeply saddened by this barbarous killing, which is the result of a growing climate of intolerance and violence against Christians in the country,” he told Asia News.

Brutal, Mysterious Murders

Andhra Pradesh has witnessed a strange trend of brutal and mysterious murders of Christian workers.

On June 8, 2006, the body of Prem Kumar, a 67-year-old preacher from the Church of South India, was found in a forest in the same district, Nizamabad. Kumar’s head was crushed beyond recognition, apparently with heavy stones. (See Compass Direct News, “Preacher Murdered in Andhra Pradesh, India,” June 12, 2006.)

A young man approached Kumar early in the morning requesting that he hold a prayer meeting in Rampur Thanda village later that day. He never returned from that “meeting” and was found murdered.

In May 2005, pastors K. Isaac Raju and K. Daniel were brutally murdered near the state capital, Hyderabad. (See Compass Direct News, “Second Pastor Found Dead in Andhra Pradesh, India,” June 6, 2005.) Unknown persons called both pastors by phone before they disappeared, asking if they would act as wedding celebrants. Raju went to meet a caller in Anantpur district on May 24, 2005 and disappeared; an unidentified caller then phoned the police on June 2, describing where to find Raju’s body.

Previously, on May 21, callers had put Daniel into a motorized rickshaw and taken him to a cemetery in Karwan, where they beat him severely before strangling him and dumping his body on the city outskirts.

An anonymous letter was sent to a local newspaper claiming the murders were carried out by an organization called the Anti-Christian Forum. The letter promised further killings.

An article in the New Indian Express on June 27, 2005, quoted a man identified only as Goverdhan, who along with his two friends allegedly murdered the two preachers.

“I am not against Christianity, but Raju and Daniel converted hundreds of Hindu families,” Goverdhan said. “They enticed them with money. We have done this to prevent further conversions. This act should be a lesson for others.”

In 2000, Pastor Yesu Dasu, 52, was killed in a similar fashion. Two people riding a motorbike came to his home on the evening of September 11 and asked for Dasu, saying someone wanted to speak with him.

Assailants then took Dasu to the outskirts of Mustabad in Karimnagar district. They bound his hands together and hit him repeatedly with an axe, eventually severing his head.

Dasu’s body was found in a pool of blood at a cattle shed near Kothakunta, along the Mustabad-Siddipet highway, three kilometers (nearly two miles) from Karimnagar. Several pieces of the body were found scattered at the murder scene.

Extremists had earlier warned Dasu to cease preaching or face the consequences. (See Compass Direct News, “Murder of Christian Preacher Remains Unsolved in India,” October 10, 2003.)

The Congress Party, with Dr. Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, a Christian, as the chief minister, rules Andhra Pradesh state. Hindu extremists have accused Reddy of giving a free hand to Christian missionaries in the state.  

Report from Compass Direct News

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