Assailants try to humiliate church members into becoming Hindus.By Our Southern India Correspondent
HYDERABAD, India, March 21, 2018(Morning Star News) – Before Hindu extremists attacking a church in southern India this month repeatedly kicked a pastor’s wife in the face, rendering her unconscious, they tried to snatch her Bible from her.
Persia Jacob, 38, clasped the Bible close to her heart as they tried to seize it.
“I will die, but I can’t do without the Bible,” she said.
They wrestled the Bible from her hands and, pushing and slapping her, they stripped her of her sari. When she pleaded with them to loosen their grips and let go of her sari, a state-provided security officer who accompanied Hindu extremist ringleader Thangam Venkatesh in the March 11 attack on the church in Tamil Nadu state told her to prostrate at Venkatesh’s feet and beg him to forgive her, she said.
“If you and your husband convert back to Hinduism right here, we will spare you alive,” one of the assailants told her. “If not, you will be brutally killed.”
When she struggled to keep them from applying vermillion to her forehead, a sign of conversion to Hinduism, Venkatesh and his accomplices struck her in the face with the church building key, leaving a scar, her husband, pastor Ravi Jacob, told Morning Star News.
“She was kicked in the face with shoes,” he said, sobbing. “I tried hard but couldn’t protect her. She fell unconscious. She was lying there unconscious without her sari.”
The assailants restrained the 41-year-old pastor, whose mouth was bloodied after they had angrily stormed into his church’s worship service with the security officer in the Sikandar Chavadi area of Madurai District that morning, taken him by the collar, dragged him out of the service and punched him repeatedly, he said.
“They were punching in rage,” Pastor Jacob said.
As he struggled for breath, the Hindu extremists hurriedly grabbed Bibles, his mobile phone, wristwatch and a microphone and set them on fire, he said.
Church members managed to get his unconscious wife into their arms when a member of the Hindu Munnani, a Tamil Nadu-based extremist group, turned to him and said, “This attack should stand as an example to all the pastors in Tamil Nadu. It should teach them a lesson so hard that there will not be any church service, and no worship of Jesus on this Tamil land,” according to Pastor Jacob.
Venkatesh, district secretary of the Hindu Munnani, gave Pastor Jacob a final warning.
“He asked me how I would prefer to die, and that he had only two options to offer me,” the pastor said. “One, he said, he would hang me in public. And, the other that he would burn me alive.”
Some 50 Hindu extremists chased Pastor Jacob more than a kilometer from Sikandar Chavadi to Koodul Nagar, he said.
“They issued threats that they will strip me and chase me naked – I ran as fast as I could,” he told Morning Star News. “They mocked me, and some were photographing. They said I should be put to shame by videotaping me nude and chasing me on the main road, and by circulating it widely to the public, saying that they can stop ‘conversions,’ and that it will be an end to Christianity.”
Meaning of the Bible
Persia Jacob said the assailants used obscene language as they punched, kicked and stripped her.
“It was all too much – it caused lot of weakness,” she said. “I couldn’t even stand or look at anyone even. My voice was gone; I soon fainted.”
She was crying out to the Lord in her heart, she said.
“When I was undergoing treatment in the hospital, I heard a voice that assured me, ‘No person shall lay a hand on you,’” she told Morning Star News. “It comforted me greatly.”
Persia Jacob was ready to die and have Jesus receive her, she said. Her daughters, 14 and 10, were traumatized.
“They are not going to school,” she said. “They have never seen anything like this attack before.”
She had deep-seated reasons for refusing to release her Bible to the assailants.
“I come from a poverty-stricken Hindu family where there was alcoholism and domestic violence. From a very tender age I was subject to domestic violence by my drunkard father,” Persia Jacob told Morning Star News. “It was my father’s testimony that transformed my life. He was uncontrollably aggressive when he gets drunk. He would beat me and my mum, and some days we had to go to sleep without food because by the end of the day my dad would spend all the money to buy alcohol.”
When her father was bed-ridden from a life-threatening disease, and the family had nothing left to survive, a Christian priest shared the gospel with him, she said. Her father said it changed him and, 15 at the time, Persia Jacob saw his life transformed.
She decided she would study the Bible and secured admission to a theological institute. In several ministries she has undertaken since then, she said, she is dependent on the Bible.
“The attackers on that day were forcefully taking away the Bibles to burn them,” she said. “I was shocked. I didn’t know what to do. I held my Bible tight close to my heart. My Lord speaks to me from His Word…And, there is not a day I can go on without reading and knowing what He wants to tell me. Like a child, I was being stubborn at the same time I was also pleading.”
Attack on Second Church
From Sikandar Chavadi, the mob led by Venkatesh reached Koodul Pudur’s Bethesda Worship Centre, one of five churches they attacked that day, sources said.
At Bethesda Worship Centre, they threatened pastor Jerome Jagatheesan, telling him that he would be killed in five days, he said.
“They yelled at me, calling pottai, pottai,” a word given to transgenders, eunuchs and homosexuals in the Tamil language, Pastor Jagatheesan told Morning Star News.
“The words they used were highly humiliating,” he said. “I was told that I give my wife to adultery. She was standing there right next to me; I know how much it hurt her. She can’t take a word against me, and I’m sure by now my in-laws who live in Andhra Pradesh state also had watched the video.”
They told him that if he is to serve Christ, he should move to the Vatican or Bethlehem, he said.
“That was not the end of it,” he said. “They stripped two female members of the church, ages 51 and 40, and a young 23-year-old woman was punched in her chest. Her mobile was thrown away.”
Pastor Jacob told Morning Star News that he went to Alanganallur police station in the evening after attending to the medical emergencies, but police refused to register the case. They gave him a Community Service Register (CSR) receipt and told him to leave, he said.
Pastor Jagatheesan said he and a female church member, Mariyammal, both tried to file First Information Reports (FIRs) against the Hindu Munnani members.
“The police at least issued me a CSR receipt, but Mariyammal’s complaint also was not accepted,” he said.
Both CSR receipts, translated from Tamil by Morning Star News, described the assailants only as “unknown culprits,” failing to disclose the identity of the Hindu Munnani members, including Venkatesh.
With Christian advocacy groups, Non-Governmental Organizations and hundreds of protesting Christians urging police to register FIRs, on March 14 police registered three FIRs on complaints by Pastor Jagatheesan and others. It was filed against “50 known persons” under the close watch of a sub-inspector identified only as Kasi, but it did not disclose the names of Hindu Munnani members and their leader, Venkatesh.
At Alanganallur police station, Pastor Jacob filed FIR No. 86/18, but it also failed to identify the attackers by name. It includes charges under the Indian Penal Code and Tamil Nadu’s Prohibition of Women Harassment Act.
An official for Hindu Munnani’s head office in Chennai, the state capital, told Morning Star News the organization has lost touch with its Madurai District secretary, Venkatesh.
“It seems his number is not functioning,” the representative said.
A source who requested anonymity said police were under pressure to apprehend Venkatesh.
“And the Hindu extremists sent threats directly to the church leaders that if anyone complains to the police, the consequences will be unbearable,” the source said. “He [Venkatesh] is aiming for a ticket from the party in the upcoming elections. He is more likely to be BJP’s [Bharatiya Janata Party’s] candidate.”
On Tuesday (March 20), local news outlets reported that Vilaikundi Venkatesh, AKA Thangam Venkatesh, was arrested along with two other extremists, but details were not revealed.
A Facebook account in Venkatesh’s name has actively posted updates on attacks on Christians and included anti-Christian hate speech.
Issue Raised at U.N.
Nehemiah Christie, director of legislations and regulations for the Synod of Pentecostal Churches, said it wrenched his heart as he watched videos of anti-Christian attacks circulating in social media.
“The incidents of hostilities against Christians were raised before the Europe Parliament on March 7, and the recent Madurai attack was also raised before the United Nations Human Rights Council [UNHRC] at Geneva on March 14,” Christie told Morning Star News. “It is now brought to the attention of the international community also. We are praying and hoping ‘may the peace prevail.’”
In spite of media coverage, opposition from political parties and Christians protesting against hate, Hindu nationalist elements are attacking churches in broad daylight, he said.
“We Christians are sending the message of peace and love into the world, but what we receive is hate and violence. It is terrible,” he said. “We Tamilians have a heart big enough to accommodate all groups, whether it be Christians, Muslims or Hindus. We must all live in unity and peace. That should be our primary goal.”
The hostile tone of the National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist BJP, against non-Hindus, has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, religious rights advocates say.
India ranked 11th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of countries where Christians experience the most persecution, up from 15th the previous year, and ahead of Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Egypt.