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Compass – About 30 Hindu extremists attacked a pastor, his wife and their driver in the western state of Gujarat on October 23. The three sustained internal injuries. The Rev. Arthur Jebaraj and his wife, Nyana Sundari Jebaraj, and their driver, Dattu Daulat, all belonging to the Friends Missionary Prayer Band (FMPB), an indigenous Christian organization, were assaulted in Kaparada Taluka, in south Gujarat state.

The attack took place at about 11 p.m. on Sunday as they returned from Garma village, where they had conducted a thanksgiving prayer meeting, to their home in Chempa village. As a supervisor of FMPB churches in the area, Rev. Jebaraj regularly visits congregations in different villages.

“On our way back, we saw a jeep parked on the road with about 30 people armed with sticks standing in front of it,” he said. “As we approached them, they stopped our vehicle. Moti Ram Choudhary, a supporter of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), came to us and asked who we were and where we were coming from.”

Rev. Jebaraj reminded Choudhary that he knew him and that he went regularly to several villages every week for prayers. “I requested him to allow us to go,” he said. “But he said, ‘Christians campaign for the Congress Party, and you too visit villages for such campaigns.’”

Rev. Jebaraj told Choudhary that they never discuss politics at the prayer meetings. “I also told him that we had gone to Garma village to conduct a thanksgiving prayer for a couple that, through prayers, was blessed with a child after seven years of their marriage.”

The driver, fearing the crowd, rolled up his window, and immediately the mob attacked him. Then they beat Rev. Jebaraj and his wife before vandalizing their vehicle. The attackers tore Jebaraj’s upper garment and hit her on the chest, arms, and back. Similarly, they hit the church official on his arms and back, causing pain in his spinal chord.

“On October 26, I went to a hospital in Nasik district in neighboring Maharashtra state to see a doctor, as my spinal chord is still in pain,” Rev. Jebaraj said.

He was able to identify three more attackers besides Choudhary: Gakal Gounda, allegedly a leader of the BJP of Kaparada Taluka; Vidhyabhai Bikabhai; and Kalubhai Bikabhai. Rev. Jebaraj and a few more Christians approached the Kaparada police station to lodge a complaint the following day. The police, however, refused to file their complaint, saying it had no substance.

The police filed a First Information Report (FIR) only after numerous Christians from different churches in the area went to the police station to express their concern.

“The FIR was lodged at 8:45 p.m. on October 24,” said Assistant Sub-Inspector Babu Bhai. “The accused are yet to be arrested.” he added. The FIR carries the names of the attackers identified by Jebaraj.

If police act, charges that would be filed against the extremists include violating the modesty of a woman by assault or criminal force, robbery and causing injury, and causing financial loss or damage.

Police Inspector Jhala was not available for comment.

Later, villagers identified four more attackers: Bhagwanbhai Arjunbhai, Devibhai Balubhai, Devubhai Raghubhai, and Kishanbhai Kalubhai.

Rev. Jebaraj said trouble began when the FMPB started its work in Chempa village 15 years ago. At the time, Choudhary, who allegedly led the October 23 attack, threatened FMBP workers and lodged false complaints against them.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the parent organization of the Hindu nationalist BJP, has been operating in Valsad and other districts of south Gujarat for several years.

According to the Indo-Asian News Service, the RSS was preparing for a rally of more than 500,000 people in the nearby Dangs district, to be held in February next year to counter alleged conversion of tribal people to Christianity.

Dangs witnessed a spate of anti-Christian violence in December 1998 following a similar rally. Numerous churches and Christian institutes were destroyed in the attack.

According to the 2001 census, there are only 284,092 Christians in Gujarat , which has a total population of more than 50 million.