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Compass (03/08/06) – Young men in the eastern state of West Bengal assaulted Christian women from two different families on Thursday (March 2) and on February 16. Fearing for their lives, the mother and daughter of one of the families have temporarily moved away from home.

In last week’s assault, six young men forced their way into the home of Kanai Kamelia in East Medinipur district, manhandling and trying to sexually assault his wife, Renuka Kamelia, according to a local Christian who requested anonymity. During the assault, the youths reviled the Kamelia family for attending a Christian prayer meeting.

“Not only this, they went to the extent of taking his 20-year-old daughter to another house and locked her up for about an hour,” the Christian source said. He added that he suspected they molested her before setting her free.

Renuka Kamelia, who bled profusely after the assault, was treated at a local hospital. She later went to the Bhupathinagar police station, where police were said to have reluctantly registered her complaint.

When Compass spoke to B.C. Kundu, officer in charge of the Bhupathinagar police station, however, he denied having any knowledge of the attack. “We have not lodged any such complaint, and nor have we been informed of anything of this sort,” he said.

The local Christian source said that Bharat Maiti, zonal committee member of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), was seemingly shielding the attackers. He also said the reason for the attack was the increasing influence of Biman Bandhu Patra, in whose house the Kamelias attended prayer meetings in the neighboring village of South Patharberia . A growing number of villagers were coming for prayer meetings there and in Laudigi, where the 45-year-old Patra is also influential.

Seekers who attend prayer meetings at Patra’s house, the Kamelias live in Laudigi in Kontai Taluka, East Medinipur (also known as Midnapore East).

The names of the six attackers are Madhab Bag, Biren Bag, Rinku Dey, Bidyut Mondal, Surajit Kamelia and Chandan Mondal. They range in age from 18 to 20.

“Kamelia’s wife and daughter have temporarily moved away from their house, as they are still feeling insecure,” the local Christian said.

Brother against Brother

Patra’s own brother, Bidyut Patra, led the February 16 attack by a group of 13 local residents against the influential Christian leader’s wife. Bidyut Patra had long been upset about his brother’s decision to become a Christian.

From a committed Hindu family, Patra accepted Christ in 1991. Opposition intensified in 2000, when his mother passed away and he refused to shave his head as required by Hindu custom.

“At 7:30 a.m. on February 16, a group of 13 people came to my house and inquired about me,” Patra said. “When my wife Sushma told them that I had gone to Kolkata, they manhandled her and demolished the boundary wall of our house.”

The attackers pulled her hair and pushed her several times. They also allegedly threatened to kill her family if they did not move out of the village.

The house in which Patra lives is built on land that his father bought for him. But his brother has tried to force Patra to move out of the village by claiming that the house is built on land encroaching on his own property.

When Patra’a wife went to the Bhupathinagar police station, police refused to lodge her complaint. Instead, they allegedly threatened to arrest her if she insisted on lodging the complaint.

When Patra returned from Kolkata, he contacted a lawyer to file a complaint against the 13 local Hindus.

Attorney Masud Mullick has filed a criminal case in the court of the Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate of Kontai. The names of the 13 accused are Shyamapada Das, Binod Pradhan, Badal Bankura, Bibuthi Pradhan, Gitgobindo Das, Dev Kumar Barik, Amit Kumar Barik, Utpal Barik, Aurbindo Barik, Amit Kumar Giri, Shikanto Maiti, Kushadhaj Karan, Phanibhushan Karan, and Bidyut Patra.

“At the next hearing on April 3, the court is expected to take cognizance of the offence and issue summons to the accused,” Mullick said.

Police Officer In-Charge Kundu claimed that the boundary wall of Patra’s house was built on government land, and that therefore villagers decided to demolish it.

Maiti, the CPI-M leader, told Compass that the attack resulted from a dispute between Patra and his brother and that it was not because he is a Christian.

But the local Christian source said, “The attackers are trying to use the land dispute as a cover-up for their opposition to the prayer meetings held by Patra.” He added that Patra was earlier attacked by a group of women carrying sickles and other sharp weapons last year.

West Bengal is ruled by the CPI-M, an ally of the United Progressive Alliance led by the Congress Party.