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Compass – Two militant Hindu groups struck churches in Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh states on Sunday (December 4). At least 25 members of the Hindu extremist group Dharma Sena attacked a church in Raipur , Chattisgarh state, severely beating five Christians. Police took two of the victims, visiting pastors, into custody for questioning but refused to arrest any of the Hindu extremists.

After beating four Christians in the church, including visiting speakers Masih Das Rai and Anmol Kamble, the attackers forced them and another area pastor who was dragged from his home, Ramesh Das Manikpuri, into a Hindu temple.

Akhilesh Edgar of local Christian organization Milap Mandali told Compass that the Sena militants tried to force the Christians to bow down to idols and shout “Victory be to god Ram [Jai Shri Ram].”

“The Christians flatly refused,” Edgar said. “Masih Das Rai even went to the extent of saying, ‘You can kill me, but I will not bow down to the idol.’” Rai had been attacked and framed by Sena. (See Compass Direct, “Pastor Charged with ‘Forced Conversion’ in India ,” November 18.)

The house church, located in the Sarora Industrial Area or Raipur , has been worshiping for three years in the home of Kanhaiya Lal Sharma. Worship had started at 10:30 a.m. and was almost over when at about noon the Dharma Sena (“Religious Army,” a militant Hindu organization) extremists attacked.

From 25 to 30 people arrived suddenly and attacked the fellowship on the first floor of the house. As they started beating the guest speakers as well as Sharma and Ram Vilas Yadav, panic spread throughout the congregation of about 30 people, including many children, Edgar said.

The Dharma Sena had long planned the attack, according to sources who said the group had been threatening the Christians for some time. Edgar said that while there were about 30 people beating the Christians, the Sena extremists had gathered about 200 other people in front of the house to keep church members from escaping.

“When the Sena extremists had beaten the four Christians to their satisfaction, they tore their clothes and paraded them in the entire area, still beating them,” Edgar said. “While doing this, they dragged Ramesh Das Manikpuri from his house and also started to beat him.”

Manikpuri, an area pastor, was not part of the disrupted worship that morning.

Some young men from the fellowship managed to escape and called Christian leaders in Raipur by public phone. Edgar and two other Christian leaders, Arun Pannalal and Rakesh Jaiaj, and a few others with them went to the area to help. When they arrived they did not find the attackers, however, so they went to the police station to report the matter.

Later, the Sena militants tried to force four of the Christians to sign a prepared document stating that they had been involved in forced and fraudulent conversions. Kamble and Sharma signed the document, while Rai and Manikpuri did not, according to Arun Pannalal of the Chattisgarh Christian Forum.

At about 1:30 p.m., the Sena extremists brought the Christians to the Urla police station (where the Christian leaders who had come to help were waiting). Of the five Christians captured, only four reached the police station, as the Sena had released Yadav. Police sent Rai and Manikpuri away for medical treatment, as they had suffered the worst beating. Kamble and Sharma were released after questioning.

They were threatened again by the Sena militants as they returned from the police station.

Following medical treatment, Rai and Manikpuri were detained by police for questioning. Authorities did not file charges against the Dharma Sena despite persistent requests by Christian leaders.

Led by Leela Dhar Chandrakar, the Dharma Sena has been very active against Christians. (See Compass Direct, “ Christians Protest Church Attacks in Chattisgarh, India ,” September 20, and “Pastor Charged with ‘Forced Conversion’ in India ,” November 18.)

Also on Sunday, a group of 15 extremists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) attacked a pastor in Jhabua district of the north-central state of Madhya Pradesh.

Police declined to detain any of the militant Hindus but rather detained the pastor for more than 10 hours for “disrupting public peace.”

Pastor Anil Mehra of the Indian Evangelical Team (IET) had just started the worship service in his rented house at 10:30 a.m. when a neighbor identified only as Raju came and disrupted the meeting, said Biju Varghese, IET coordinator of Jhabua district.

Mehra lives at Jhabua’s Bhabra sub-district. There were only seven people in his house when the attack took place.

“Soon, a leader of the RSS, Inder Singh Dawar, came with a group of about 15 people and started beating him,” Varghese said. The extremists struck Mehra’s head and kicked and punched him. Uggar Singh, a resident of nearby Temachi village, allegedly threatened to slit Mehra’s throat.

When Mehra told the attackers that he was conducting a meeting peacefully in his own rented house, they dragged him out. The also forced others, including his wife and children, to come out.

The assailants asked Mehra to lock the house and sit quietly in the verandah. They then called the police and accused him of noise violations.

“When two policemen came, they also beat Mehra,” Varghese said. “Soon they took him on their motorbike to the Bhabra police station, where he was locked up for more than two hours.”

At 3:30 p.m., the police tied Mehra’s hands behind his back with a rope and took him by motorcycle to the Tehsildar, or sub-divisional administrative head, of Jobat, about 100 kilometers (about 62 miles) from Bhabra, as the equivalent official of Bhabra was away at the time.

As the police and Mehra reached Jobat at 6 p.m., however, they were informed that the Tehsildar of Bhabra had returned. The police then brought Mehra back to Bhabra.

At the official’s residence, the police took Mehra’s signature on a blank paper and asked him to appear on December 12 for a hearing with a witness and a guarantor for his bail. He was then released.

When Compass spoke to a head constable, Devi Singh, he denied that Mehra was attacked.

“Some local villagers complained that Mehra was disturbing them by making a lot of noise, and therefore we detained him,” he said. “But, no one beat him, and no organization is behind it.”

Singh acknowledged, however, that police had tied Mehra’s hands while taking him to Jobat. “There was a crowd protesting against Mehra, so we were compelled to tie his hands to maintain peace,” he said.

The station house officer, Arti Rana, was not available for comment at press time.

Jhabua witnessed a spate of anti-Christian violence in January 2004, when the body of a 9-year-old girl was found in a Catholic mission compound. Despite the arrest of a man who claimed responsibility for the murder, Hindu extremists continue to hold Catholic officials at the school responsible for the girl’s death.