An elderly pastor in southern India has been found dead days after complaining to the police about a sum of money missing from his bank account.

Neighbours of Vunnam Daniel, 65, from Tenali Mandal village in the south-eastern state of Andhra Pradesh, alerted police after they heard his mobile phone constantly ringing without being answered. He was found dead on 24 April.

Vunnam Daniel's identity card (World Watch Monitor)
Vunnam Daniel’s identity card (World Watch Monitor)

Daniel was last seen on 21 April after meeting village heads.

Daniel’s daughter, Sarah, told World Watch Monitor that six days earlier, on 15 April, her father told her he had been robbed. “He did not reveal the amount. I thought it must be some three or four thousand rupees (c. US$50-75). I consoled my father and asked him to take care of himself,” she said.

“I didn’t know that I would come back to this village to see that my father had been killed.”

Daniel’s wife had been living with their daughter to help her with the children. “My father lived all by himself; he would go wherever he gets called to preach, share the gospel and was always at peace with everyone. This cruel world couldn’t stand him,” she said.

On Saturday (21 April) Daniel went to the police station to file a case against a person he accused of stealing his money. “The police said they would need a statement from the bank to register the case,” his cousin, Dharma Rao, said.

The branch manager of Andhra Bank in Kolakuluru, where Daniel held his account, told Andhra Pradesh newspaper Sakshi that Daniel came to him complaining about missing money. The bank manager said he issued Daniel with a statement of his account and asked him to return on Tuesday morning (24 April) with a copy of the First Information Report (FIR) he had filed with police on 21 April.

Dharma Rao told World Watch Monitor that Daniel sold some agricultural land three years ago, which should have brought in at least 800,000 rupees (c. US$12,000). Daniel deposited 600,000 rupees (c.US$9,000) in the bank for his grandchildren, and cleared past debts with the remaining amount, believing he could then just survive on his old-age pension, which he was in the process of applying for, Rao said.

World Watch Monitor spoke to villagers who knew Daniel. They said they believed he was taken advantage of because of his status as a Dalit. “They [the police] get bought for money easily. We challenge them by asking: ‘Why has this happened to pastor Daniel alone?’ Because he comes from the lower strata of society, and he is a good Christian whose voice they can ignore, and rob him of his money. They can enjoy his money and kill him brutally. This is what you get if you are a Dalit and a Christian in this country,” said one of the villagers, who did not wish to be named.

When asked if Daniel had approached the police for help and to complain about the robbery and threats to his life, Police Inspector Chinna Mallaiah said: “No, he never came to us.” When asked if a robbery had taken place, he said the police had taken statements from villagers. The inspector did not reveal the names of any suspects in connection with the murder. However, he did say that police had charged unknown persons under the Indian Penal Code sections 420 (cheating, in relation to property) and 302 (murder).

Asked about the post-mortem, Inspector Mallaiah said: “It might take a month for the post-mortem report to be issued.”

Daniel’s fellow villagers have complained that Inspector Mallaiah is not the right person to be investigating the case. They submitted a plea to a Deputy Superintendent of Police, saying the inspector had refused to accept the pastor’s complaint, and that they were concerned about his ability to conduct a fair investigation.

“I have no strength to fight back. My father never did any injustice to anyone. They took advantage of his innocence,” his daughter Sarah said.