A Hindu mob raided five churches in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu yesterday (11 March), attacking and abusing Christians as they worshipped. Several women were stripped and beaten.
The attackers, who according to witnesses were accompanied by a state-provided police officer, were part of Hindu Munnani, a Tamil Nadu-based organisation formed to defend Hinduism.
The Hindu Munnani District Secretary, Thangam Venkatesh, led the mob, which began its raids early in the morning.
“At about 9am, Venkatesh went to the prayer hall and abused the pastor, Ravi Jacob. He used extremely vulgar language, and then turned on his wife, Persis,” John J.Y. Arul, Chairman of Madurai District Pastors’ Fellowship, told World Watch Monitor.
“The extremists were aggressive and uncontrollable. In front of children and others in the church, they savagely beat up Jacob and Persis. They removed Persis’ saree and repeatedly kicked her in the face,” Arul said.
“I can’t repeat the words they used against Persis. We were shocked by their inhuman behaviour.
“When Persis was crying for help, the police guard with the Munnani leader asked her to ‘prostrate herself at the feet of Thangam Venkatesh and plead for his forgiveness’.
“Persis’ face was swollen and she had to be rushed to hospital.”
The mob also burnt Christian literature, including Bibles.
“The same Hindu Munnani men went to four other churches in the district,” Arul said.
At about 10am the mob went to the Bethesda Worship Centre, where they stripped and attacked three women. Two of the women, Maariyammal, 40, and Annal, 51, were sexually assaulted. A third, Bava Dhaarani, 23, was slapped and punched. Maariyammal tried to lodge a complaint with the police, but she was told police could “only take one complaint per church” and the church pastor had already made a complaint.
The mob told Bethseda’s pastor, Jerome Jagatheesan, “you will be brutally murdered in five days”.
“Their language was filthy,” Jagatheesan told World Watch Monitor. “They called me a woman, saying if I was a man I would not serve Christ. They bullied me, calling me pottai, pottai. It is an offensive word in the Tamil language, used against transgender people and homosexuals.”
Activists in the mob said to Jagatheesan: “If you are a man, why did you convert? Why did you change your god? You are a homosexual who gives his wife to adultery.”
Jagatheesan said: “Their words were brutish. Had I uttered a single word they would have attacked us the same way sister Persis was attacked. They showed no mercy.”
The activists also said to Jagatheesan: “If you want to serve Jesus Christ, go to Bethlehem or the Vatican. Worship him there. Why do you want to make India impure?”
At the church the mob shouted threats to a 19-year-old named James, whose father, Emmanuel, leads another church. The activists called out: “If we continue gathering for Sunday worship and prayers, it will be my dad’s turn next,” James said.
“[Hindu nationalists] are ruling in the centre, it is their government. We Christians are helpless,” he added.
Another pastor, Sagi Sugathia, said the mob “are at least 25 in number and very violent. Our church services had to be stopped because of Thangam Venkatesh and his men”.
Complaints to the police
Later in the day complaints were made at Koodal Pudur and Alanganallur police stations, but police refused to register the case. Koodal Pudur police issued a Community Service Register (CSR) receipt in which they did not reveal the identity of Thangam Venkatesh and the Hindu Munnani workers.
The CSR receipt, filed on the complaint made by Jerome Jagatheesan, said: “Twenty-five unknown miscreants or unidentified people have attacked the Christians.”
Some 200 pastors later demanded that a First Information Report (a victim or witness statement made to police to trigger further investigation) was filed against the Hindu Munnani activists.
A Facebook account in the name of Thangam Venkatesh posted updates on yesterday’s attacks, including a video of Venkatesh shouting abuse at Jagatheesan.