Mob beats up worshippers

Bhopal, India - Twenty-odd men armed with lathis barged into a Christian prayer meeting inside a Bhopal house this morning and beat up the worshippers, who included 18 schoolchildren.

At 10.20 am, when Father Francis was leading the congregation in hymns, he was hit by a stone. “Suddenly there was a shower of stones. As I looked, I saw a mob of aggressive and angry men who started beating us up mercilessly,” the priest told Bhopal superintendent of police Anant Kumar Singh.

Father Francis said his cries for help were ignored by neighbours and passers-by. “Perhaps it is our deeds that failed to invoke sympathy.”

About 30 worshippers from the Pentecostal sect had gathered at the L-210 Bharti Niketan address of one of them, Freddie Prasad, in the industrial neighbourhood of Govindpura. The house is located next to the busy Geetanjali College.

The assailants severely beat up the worshippers and hurled abuses at them, warning them not to “vitiate” the atmosphere in Bhopal.

Rajesh, a resident of Bhel colony who was attending the prayers, said: “The attackers barged in after breaking windshields of cars parked outside. I was lucky to lock myself in the toilet. The attack was over in 20 minutes. I could hear them using the choicest of obscenities, accusing the prayer organisers of engineering religious conversions.”

While attacks on Christians are on the rise in Madhya Pradesh, these have mostly been confined to rural areas.

Christian leaders held the Bajrang Dal and other Hindu extremist organisations responsible for the incident.

Former state women’s commission member Indira Iyenger said: “The police and the administration know exactly who is behind the attack. It is shocking to note that the case has been registered against 20 unidentified persons.”

The SP said a search is on for the culprits. “Investigations are on. We will let you know when we reach some conclusion.” He said neither Father Francis nor the FIR named any organisation.

In Bhopal, Bajrang Dal state convener Devender Rawat claimed ignorance about the attack. “Although we are aware that the Pentecostal sect is aggressively pursing religious conversion, we are against the cult of violence.”

In the past year, there have been 38 registered cases of violence against the community.