A pastor’s wife is still bed-ridden after hard-line Sikhs and Hindus broke her leg in an attack on their church last month in northern India, sources said.
Carrying swords and wooden rods, the assailants also slashed the head of a church member in the attack on Christians gathered for a meal at the Evangelical Church of God in the Arniwala area of Fazilka District, Punjab state.
“The physical injuries were very brutal, so that even over a month after the attack, the injured have not recovered,” pastor Roop Lal told Morning Star News. “The doctors told us the injured area [of his wife’s leg] is totally infected, and the skin in the area developed some kind of boils.”
In the July 12 attack, about 15 men also vandalized a security camera and destroyed the church gate and other property, causing damages of about 30,000 rupees (US$404), he said.
Pastor Lal’s wife, Raj Rani, underwent two surgeries on her left leg, and 19-year-old Lovepreet Singh received 18 stitches for a wound on his scalp. Surgeons at Faridkot Medical Hospital on July 24 addressed the infection on Rani’s leg, and she underwent a later operation to insert rods for the fracture, Pastor Lal said.
Having no money on hand, the pastor relied on contributions of area Christians to pay for the operations, he said.
“Since there is a threat to our lives, we had to move to an area around 15 miles away,” he told Morning Star News. “My wife is bedridden since the attack.”
Her husband and children have been taking care of her, Rani said.
“There is a lot of pain, and I am not able to move,” Rani told Morning Star News. “The kids have been cooking and doing all the chores by themselves. If I can move a bit, it will be a respite for us. I can at least do some of the things by myself and not be burdensome to them while they have their studies going on.”
Arniwala police registered a First Information Report (FIR) against the assailants, who filed false counter-charges that resulted in officers also registering a case against the pastor and his family.
The FIR against Mora Singh, Seva Singh, another identified only as Gopi and 10 unknown persons was filed under non-bailable charges of house-trespass and maliciously insulting religion or religious beliefs, as well as bailable offenses of voluntarily causing hurt, rioting, armed with deadly weapons and unlawful assembly guilty of offense committed with a common object, sources said.
“Arniwala police then registered a case against us falsely alleging that my sons and I have attacked neighbor Sri Chand,” Pastor Lal said.
The counter-FIR was filed on July 20 under charges of voluntarily causing grievous hurt, voluntarily causing hurt and acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention. Legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom-India has given the Christian family legal assistance.
“Our allied attorney is dealing with the false cases filed against the pastor and his family,” ADF India’s Punjab representative told Morning Star News.
While area Hindus and Sikhs have long opposed and harassed the Christians, the attack followed a confrontation on July 4 over clogged rainwater.
Pastor Lal and his family were clearing a drain of rainwater that was flooding the church compound when Chand, the neighbor, emerged from his home and accused them of sending rainwater into his house, the pastor said.
“We tried to explain to him that the passage needs to be cleared so that the water flows freely, and that we need to hurry and tidy up the premises for the worship service,” Pastor Lal. “But he went on shouting, abusing us in extremely filthy language that we are intentionally piling our dirt in his house. I told him that it is rainwater which is flowing in the area, and that it is affecting everybody in the neighborhood.”
Neighbors phoned the area council and requested that personnel clear the clogged drains, but Chand filed the complaint against the pastor and his family alleging that they had attacked him and destroyed his property, Pastor Lal said.
Fazilka District church leaders on July 12 accompanied local pastors to the Arniwala police station for talks with Chand, and afterward at noon police dropped the Christians off at the church premises where members were preparing food for the pastors.
“We prayed with them and sat for lunch. Right then, the mob barged inside the gates,” Pastor Lal said. “They vandalized everything in their sight and attacked us with swords and wooden sticks, during which my wife and the teenager of our church received severe injuries.”
Pastor Lal said area residents have opposed his ministry for the past 21 years.
As the church has grown, a multi-religious guru known as a baba has set up a nearby camp to attract crowds, he said.
“The presence of a church seems to be a threat to his followers as well as the Sikh and Hindu community, since they feel the crowds are thronging to the church,” Pastor Lal said. “They had been waiting for an opportunity to attack us. They wanted us to flee from the area.”
The church is gathering in smaller groups in homes, with services at its main worship site taking place only on days when police provide security, he said. He requested prayer for his wife and Singh.
“It was only the Lord who saved my wife from the brutal attack; she would have been dead in their hands that day. But our Lord is merciful. We give Him praise as we endure this phase of persecution,” he said. “We do not know when we would be able to return to our home on the church premises. Please pray for us; there is a threat to our lives.”
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.