Four Christians in Maharashtra state, one 70 years old, were released on bail today after more than two weeks in jail, accused of “rioting” when Hindu extremists attacked them and damaged two of their homes.
The incident in Kamseth village, Nasik District in western India began on Oct. 28 when the Hindu extremists told Christians to remit 300 rupees (US$5) for the celebration of the Hindu festival of lights, or Diwali. The Christians submitted half the amount, which the Hindus later angrily returned to them, area church leader Prem Barnabas told Morning Star News.
The Hindus summoned four Christians from two families – 70-year-old Govind Janu Galat, Gulab Govind Galat, Dilip Laxu Galat and Sakaram Govind Galat – to the village’s Hindu temple and told them to return the rest of the money so that they could use it to buy alcohol, reported the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI).
The Christians readily gave the money back to them, but the extremists began pushing, beating and kicking them as they insulted their Christian faith, according to EFI.
“Somehow three Christians managed to run away after a while, but the one who remained, Dilip Laxu Galat, was severely beaten up,” Barnabas said.
The assailants then hurled stones at the house of Govind Janu Galat and stole items and 10,000 rupees ($US163) from his home. The long-time Christian says he came to Christ 30 years ago after visiting a church service in which his sight was restored after a pastor prayed for him.
They also stoned another house of one of the Christians, breaking wall tiles and half of the roof, and damaged the small shop of another.
Fearing for their lives, the four Christians fled, hid in mountainous terrain, and called the police. Officers reached the site later that evening. Under cover of darkness, the Hindu mob pelted police with stones, breaking their vehicle windows, and roughed them up.
The Christians had come out of their hiding place when the police arrived, and the Hindu extremists resumed their attack on them, a Harsul police official identified only as Kirtekar told Morning Star News.
“The mob wanted to continue beating the Christians, and as a safety measure we took them inside our vehicle, which further agitated the attackers, and they started to stone our vehicles,” he said.
On the basis of the complaint filed by the attackers, however, police arrested the four Christians under accusations of “rioting,” though the police official said they were arrested in order to “protect” them. Police also filed a First Information Report against the 14 assailants.
“We managed to nab eight of them, and we also hope to arrest the others who have absconded,” he said.
On Nov. 1 the Hindu extremists again stoned the houses of the two Christians, and several Christians, including women and children, fled into the mountains in fear. They have since returned to their homes.
“All our people are poor, and we wanted to have a compromise with the villagers,” Barnabas said. “We have talked to the village head, and he is ready to help us in securing a compromise.”
Tension remains, however, and an agreement that would bring peace remained elusive.
The seed of conflict and hatred in Kamseth village appears to have been planted by the area leader of the Hindu extremist World Hindu Council (VHP), Promod Kurkani, according to the church leaders. He was once banned from a neighboring village, Ether, for spreading hateful propaganda against Christians, they said.
“Ether village is a strong Christian community,” Barnabas said. “After the village leaders realized that he had been trying to fill the minds of the simple villagers with his hate agendas, they banned him from staying there one year ago.”
Relatives had fasted and prayed for the four Christians while they were jailed.
“Their faith in the Lord is exemplary and very touching,” Barnabas said.