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Compass (02/21/06) – Accusing the pastor of an independent church in the northern state of Punjab of “forcible conversion,” an Indian woman from Canada and three unidentified youths on February 8 beat the Christian leader so severely that he required hospital treatment.

After discussing a land dispute before local political leaders in Khamachon village in Nawanshahr district (57 miles from the state capital city of Chandigarh ), Surjeet Kaur slapped Balhar Singh, pastor of Doaba Punjabi Christian Sabha. She accused him and the area’s Christian community of forcible conversions.

Kaur then ordered three youths who were with her to beat Singh. The attack took place in front of the Panchayat, a village council with representatives of four other villages besides Khamachon.

The three continued to beat Singh as Kaur shouted obscenities while accusing him of forcibly converting Hindus.

Council leaders called police, who immediately took Singh to a hospital for treatment. He had several bruises on his body and a deep cut on his face near the cheek bone.

The local police station, however, did not register a formal complaint against Kaur and the youths until the village leaders met with a senior police official.

The attack came about during a land dispute between Kaur, a Canadian-born Indian whose husband lives at Raipur Dabba, and Singh, who pastors a church of 50 people.

“Although the real bone of contention is my church, Kaur used a land matter and conversion as a pretext for the attack,” said Singh, who was still recovering from his injuries at press time.

Along with other Christians, Singh had bought land from Kaur and her husband, Sarabjeet Ahluwalia, about three years ago. Kaur claimed that the approach road, which divides the plot, belonged to her family. She’d told him they were planning to build a parking lot on it for a liquor shop they were intending to open.

Singh said the property sale papers clearly stated that the road would be used by the buyer.

“When Kaur and her family claimed that the road belonged to them, I decided to ask the Panchayat to mediate,” he said. The leaders of the villages saw the agreement papers and decided in Singh’s favor.

“I suspect that Hindu fundamentalists are behind the attack,” Singh said. He said he’d heard that the Kaur family has given the power of attorney of their property to a local supporter of the extremist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). “There is absolutely no reason why they should claim the approach road. By creating such tensions, they [Hindu fundamentalists] want to drive me out of the village because they do not like the fact that villagers come to my church.”

When Compass spoke to an official at the local police station, he denied that the BJP had any role in the attack. “It was just a dispute between Kaur and Singh,” said Sub-Inspector Gurmeet Singh.

The official said he had registered a case against Kaur and her husband for voluntarily causing hurt, wrongfully restraining, obscenity in public place, spreading rumor, rioting, and unlawful assembly.

Kaur had allegedly sent some men to Singh’s house on February 5 to ask him to surrender the road by threatening him and his family members. Singh was away and did not meet them.

The messengers returned on February 8 demanding to meet with Singh, who agreed on condition that the meeting be held in the presence of the council of villages. That meeting, however, ended in the violence against Singh.

After police had filed a complaint, Kaur’s family met with the pastors of churches in nearby villages requesting them to pacify Singh and to ask him to withdraw the charge.

Regarding the charges, Singh reached a compromise with her family after they apologized before the council of villages on February 12. They also gave a written statement that they would not repeat their mistake.