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Compass Direct (05/09/06) – Punjab police on Friday (May 5) assured members of a house church in Bhatinda district attacked by Hindu extremists during an Easter service that they would help negotiate a compromise with the attackers.

Sukh Pal Singh, a member of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP or World Hindu Council), on April 16 led a group of five people who disrupted the service at the House of Prayer, an independent church. The extremists also warned the church not to hold further meetings.

“I have asked the Bhatinda police superintendent to look into the matter. Rest assured of the safety of Christians,” senior police official Virender Kumar told Compass.

Pastor Francis, who uses only one name, said police had taken statements from church members and would do the same with the accused. “On the basis of these statements the police will arrange a compromise meeting between ourselves and the accused.”

Vandalism, Verbal Abuse

Francis vividly recalled the attack. “At least five people carrying sticks stormed the Easter service, which was taking place on the terrace of my house at 11 a.m. on April 16,” he said. “Initially, they stood outside my house and warned the Christians who were coming to attend the service not to enter the house. Later they came onto the terrace and started shouting, demanding that we stop the prayer right away.”

One of the extremists told the others to vandalize the canvas awning that was pitched on the terrace to provide shade during the service. Others started verbally abusing women.

The men also shouted anti-Christian slogans, saying that Christ was an illegitimate child, and accused church members of offering money to Hindus to convert them.

The Christians attending the church immediately phoned police, who arrived promptly at the scene.

About 200 church members were present; others had turned away after seeing the extremists.

“As soon as the police reached the house, the extremists started running away. However, the police managed to catch three of them,” said Francis. Those three were identified as Yogesh Batish, a leader of the Hindu extremist group Shiv Sena; Vivek, alias Appu, also from Shiv Sena, and a man known only as Suraj.

Church members later learned that another 35 extremists were about to join the attack, but fled when the police arrived.

As they fled, they warned Francis not to conduct a prayer meeting the following Sunday.

Francis resumed the service after the disruption, and went to the police station at 3:30 p.m. to lodge a written complaint. Since then, meetings have been held with police protection.

Singh has a reputation for attacking Christian gatherings. “He attacked an open air Christian convention at Guiana Mandi in Naiya Wala village in Bhatinda district about a month ago,” said a local Christian who requested anonymity. “He had also stopped another convention about one and a half years ago.”