A 14-year-old Christian boy in eastern India is fighting for his life a month after suspected Hindu extremists threw flammable liquid on him and set him on fire, sources said.
“He is very, very critical,” said Dr. K.N. Tiwari of the burn unit of Appolo Burn Hospital in Patna, Bihar state. “His survival chances are low.”
On Aug. 11 three unidentified men on a motorbike threw the liquid on Nitish Kumar as he was returning home to Bihar state’s Kamta Nagar village, Gaya District, from his early morning routine of purchasing fresh vegetables. Drenched, Nitish initially thought they had mischievously thrown water on him, he said.
“But soon my skin began to burn,” Nitish told Morning Star News, in agony. “The burning sensation increased with every passing second. I dropped the basket and ran towards my house [750 meters away] screaming and howling.”
The motorbike did not stop, and in his pain he had no way of trying to see its license plate, he said.
The fire burned 65 percent of his body, with 15 percent deep burns, said Sushma Sharma, a hospital volunteer treating Kumar. Pastor Rajkumar Bharati, also known as Began Mochi, head of the church the Kumar family attends in Kurwa, said the fire burned him in back from neck to knees and in front from his lower chest, stomach and groin down to his knees, along with the back of both hands.
His family has faced opposition from Hindu extremists from Nitish’s village and from Kurwa since they left Hinduism for Christianity two years ago, said Nitish’s 17-year-old brother, Sanjeet Kumar.
“A month before the attack, some extremists spread word in the village that they would expel all the people who follow the Christian faith from the village,” Sanjeet told Morning Star News. “We also heard about it, but it did not deter us from our faith. And suddenly this attack took place.”
Everyone in their church has faced Hindu extremist hostilities, he said. In December, Hindu extremists blocked the routes of Christians going to Sunday services in Kurwa and questioned them, he said.
“They would question everybody as to why do they go for prayer,” Sanjeet said. “They used to ask us if we had been given money or other allurement to attend the meetings, or were we forced to do so. So all of us clarified that nobody asks us to come to church. We all go to church of our own will, and we go there for the Lord.”
The Kumar family also worships each evening in their home with about 20 others, and Sanjeet, about to enter the 10th grade, said that he and Nitish also went to other places to lead worship services.
“We know that those who belong to Christ have to face persecution and have to take the narrow road to enter into God’s kingdom,” he said.
Tiwari said Nitish’s wounds will not heal by themselves.
“There is only one treatment for his condition, and that is skin grafting, but there is not enough skin left on his body to be used except for a socks-length portion on one of his feet and some portion of his chest,” Tiwari said. “The little amount of skin left cannot cover the entire area of his body that is burnt.”
Nitish’s low hemoglobin levels also make skin grafts too risky, he said. Nitish loses much blood with the changing of his dressing every other day, a nurse said, and Sanjeet noted that as a result Nitish receives a blood transfusion nearly every three days.
Nitish’s mother and two brothers care for him 24 hours a day in the hospital, while his father continues meeting the family’s financial needs by driving a cycle-cart. The family was not able to get Nitish to the hospital in Patna, 90 kilometers (55 miles) from their home, until four days after the attack.
A Christian from Bodh Gaya, Anirudh Chaudhary, said that after he and other Christian leaders were unable to find an adequate hospital in the area by Aug. 13, they finally decided to take him to Patna the next day.
“There was already a delay of three days, and we did not want to delay it any further, so we called for an ambulance on the fourth day after the incident, and around 4 a.m. we started for the burn hospital in Patna,” Chaudhary said.
When they arrived, Tiwari wondered aloud how Nitish was still alive given the extent of his burns, Chaudhary said. Sharma quoted the doctor as saying, “It is only God’s grace that Nitish has pulled through thus far with this extent of burns.”
The family opted not to report the attack to police. After Morning Star News contacted Gaya City Superintendent of Police Rakesh Kumar, he obtained a statement from Sanjeet.
“I have informed the SHO [Station Head Officer], and we are investigating the case,” Rakesh Kumar told Morning Star News.
Nitish and his four brothers, two sisters, mother and father were Hindus until two years ago, when they put their faith in Christ after his mother was delivered from tormenting spirits following healing prayer by Christians, Sanjeet said. Family members who were frequently ill also began to enjoy good health after the Christians prayed for them.
“Since we started to believe in Christ two years ago, the evil spirits left my mother, and health was restored in our family,” Sanjeet said. “We are still poor, but there is happiness in our lives after we started following Jesus.”
The Kumar family has been attending Pastor Bharati’s church in Kurwa since then.
“We never got scared of opposition,” Sanjeet told Morning Star News. “We continued to go to church despite threats. Even today, after what my brother has gone through, we will not forsake Christ. We will continue to remain faithful until we die.”
Bihar state has seen sudden rise in cases of persecution against Christians in the last two years, said pastor Deepak Kumar.
“Every 7-10 days there is an incident in Patna District or Gaya,” Pastor Kumar told Morning Star News. On Aug. 9, a church building under construction was damaged in Warsliganj, Nawada District, he said.
A Christian worker with the same ministry in Fatehpur, Gaya District received several threats saying that if he did not leave, he would be killed and his church building demolished. On July 29, a mob of 25-30 people trespassed on church premises with guns and sticks but fled after nearby villagers intervened.
The hostile tone of the National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, against non-Hindus, has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, religious rights advocates say.
India ranked 10th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2021 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, as it was in 2020. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position worsened after Modi came to power.