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(March 3, 2006) – The Washington-DC based human rights group, International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that three pastors were severely attacked by a group of Hindu fundamentalists on February 26. They were released from a hospital in Maharashtra state on March 1. All three had received serious injuries to their heads, shoulders and legs.

The incident took place in Nere village, Panvel Taluka in Raigad district, near the state capital, Mumbai, at about 6:30 pm on Sunday while Rev. K.M. Philip, Rev. Biju Samuel and Rev. Reggie Thomas were leaving for a prayer meeting. The attackers were allegedly from the Bajrang Dal, the youth wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP).

The victims belong to a Christian non-profit, Social and Evangelical Association for Love (SEAL), which works for the rehabilitation of neglected children, terminally ill and destitute people found on the streets and railway platforms. SEAL, which was founded by Philip, runs a home for the destitute at Vankani village, about 2 km from Nere, where the incident took place.

“On our way to the prayer meeting, we saw an accident. A car that was running ahead of us hit a motorbike. The person who was driving the motorbike started fighting with the car driver, a lady. We came out of our vehicle and tried to help pacify both of them,” Philip told ICC.

“In the meantime, I saw a person in the crowd who was trying to hide an iron rod. Suddenly, this person and 50 more people wielding iron bars started hitting us,” he added. The mob was allegedly led by two local men who are known to be supporters of the Bajrang Dal. Their names are Dattariya Patil and Nandio Patil of Nere village.

Philip and the two others were subjected to intense beating for about one hour. “After the attackers fled the scene, we were taken to a nearby hospital, where we were admitted for treatment,” he said.

“We have been attacked at least nine times before because we are Christians, but we have not lodged a complaint thinking we should live at peace as long as possible. However, this time we had to lodge a complaint because the attack we very severe,” he added.

However, police inspector Mr. Pradeep Mane, of the Panvel Taluka police station, denied that the three were attacked because they were Christians.

“Actually, the person driving the motorbike asked for money from the lady driving the car. The lady finally got willing to pay the money, but the three asked her not to promise any money to him. This made the man furious and he, along with his relatives, beat them,” Mane said.

Deputy Commissioner of Police Praveen Pawar said that the police would deal with the culprits strictly.

Mane also said that he had arrested eight of the attackers, and that he would arrest the others soon also.

A group of young people had attacked three other Christians from the Panvel Brethren Church while they were distributing Christian literature near the Panvel bus stand on November 26, 2005.

Mr. Abraham Mathai of the All India Christian Council, who is also a member of the Maharashtra State Minorities Commission, told ICC that the attackers in the February 26 incident and the earlier attacks were all from the same group, the Bajrang Dal.