Orissa High Court petition charges officials with bias against Christians

New Delhi, India -- The defense attorney for a Christian evangelist arrested on charges of attempting to convert Hindus in India’s Orissa state appealed his client’s case to the Orissa High Court yesterday. The appeal exposes police negligence in protecting Kiran Kumar from attack by a group of Hindu extremists and charges officers with torturing the evangelist while in police custody.

“I filed a writ petition in the High Court demanding that the accusation filed against Kiran Kumar, an evangelist of the Life in Christ Mission, be quashed and the inquiry into the incident be conducted by an independent body,” attorney B.D. Das told Compass.

The case relates to a February 27 incident in which nine persons allegedly belonging to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP or World Hindu Council) tried to throw 30-year-old Kumar into a lake in Orissa’s Khurda district.

Victim Arrested, but not Assailants

When police arrived on the scene, instead of protecting the evangelist, they arrested Kumar and charged him with preaching Christianity to Hindus in order to convert them, an activity prohibited by Orissa’s draconian anti-conversion laws.

A local court granted Kumar bail on March 8 and police registered a First Investigation Report against the nine assailants. The suspects were then charged under sections of the Indian Penal Code for causing hurt, criminal trespass and intimidation.

At press time, police had not arrested any of the nine accused, who reportedly disappeared from the village.

“The lower judiciary, the police, and the medical examination department, all have failed in doing their duty,” Das said.

“When Kumar submitted a complaint against the VHP activists, the police tore it and did not register a First Information Report, whereas they acted promptly on the accusations of the VHP.”

An Appointment with a Seeker

According to Kumar, he and his associate Bijay Pradhan were invited to the house of a Hindu seeker, Mr. Dasarathi Behera, for prayer on the evening of February 27 when the nine assailants stopped them. “They asked us why we were going to a Hindu house if we were Christians. ‘Have you come to convert all the people of this village?’ they asked.”

Kumar said one of the villagers, Kumar Behera, tied him with a rope. The group then threatened to throw him in the nearby Chilika Lake. “Let’s see how Jesus will save him,” they said.

The nine slapped Kumar several times and abused him with obscenities until 11:30 p.m. when a police vehicle came and arrested him.

Police Torture Kumar

“In the Balugaon police station, the police officer in charge, Patra Babu, asked me to squat for 100 times with my hands holding my ears. In fear, I obeyed his command, but after I finished, he said you have not done a hundred so repeat it again.

“After doing it again for a long time, I got tired and sat down. Then Patra Babu started beating me mercilessly with a bamboo stick and asked me to call Jesus to save me.

“And then another police official, Pradhan Babu, started beating me up with a bamboo stick in my legs and back. In excruciating pain and thirst, I spent the whole night at the police station.”

The two police officers beat Kumar again the following morning.

“While worshipping idols of Hindu gods, Patra Babu suddenly got angry and said I was [an] anti-religious Christian preacher and started beating me up yet again,” Kumar said “Pradhan Babu also joined in later. Lastly, an assistant sub-inspector, Sethi Babu, came to me and started kicking me in my knees with his shoes until I started bleeding.”

Due Process Denied

Das said that, in addition to the brutal treatment, police abused Kumar’s civil rights by denying him due process of the law. Section 167 of the Criminal Procedure Code requires a police officer to send the accused to the nearest magistrate when the investigation into the accusation against him cannot be completed within 24 hours.

“Although the police arrested Kumar on February 27, they produced him before the Sub-Divisional Judicial Magistrate in Banapur on March 1, which was more than 24 hours and therefore illegal,” Das said.

“Further, when the magistrate noticed marks of injuries on the evangelist’s body, she ordered his medical examination. But the medical examiner wrote a false report saying the injuries on Kumar’s body were three to seven days old, suggesting he had the injuries before he was brought to the police station.”

“When I went to the doctor,” Kumar said, “constable Panda Babu told him, ‘Sir, this man is a preacher who has come to convert everyone to Christianity. When we stopped him from doing so, he complained to the magistrate.’ As a result, the doctor also got angry with me.

“Later [after the initial court appearance], they took me to that doctor for a medical checkup. The doctor did not even examine me this time but gave a report to Panda Babu.

“While I was being transferred to the Khurda jail, Panda Babu asked me to keep quiet before the jail authorities or else I would be beaten up again,” Kumar said.

Seeker's Testimony Ignored

Dasarathi Behera, the Hindu seeker Kumar was intending to visit on February 27, was accused and arrested along with the evangelist. Behera reportedly testified before the police that he believed in Jesus Christ without any fear or pressure induced by anyone.

His testimony should have absolved Kumar of any charges of “forced conversion” under the ‘Orissa Freedom of Religion Act,’ Orissa’s 1967 anti-conversion law. Evidently Babu and his fellow police officers have chosen to ignore Behera’s statement.