HYDERABAD, India The brutal killings of Pastor K. Isaac Raju and Rev. K. Daniel have shaken the Christian community of Andhra Pradesh and have prompted several Christian leaders to believe that both the preachers were victims to communal violence that was surfacing in the state, the New Delhi-based Christian Today newspaper has confirmed.
Whereas the gunny bag containing the decomposed body of the 40-year old Hosanna Ministries preacher was recovered by the police near a drainage canal on the outskirts of Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh, on June 2, Rev. Daniel, an independent preacher, succumbed to his wounds on May 20. Police reports confirm that acid was poured on the body of Rev. Daniel, who hail from Neralla, Karimnagar district. Both the preachers were reported missing for several days before they were found dead.
"We see the hand of anti-Christian groups behind the murders," said B. Danam, executive secretary of the Andhra Pradesh Christian Federation (APCF). APCF has urged the state government to take stringent measures to curb such fundamentalist groups.
In response to the protests against the killings, State Home Minister K. Jana Reddy has ordered a special probe into the apparent murders. The home minister has also offered protection to Christian missionaries living in the state. Following the recovery of Pastor Rajus body, the state government has also formed a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to find those responsible for the murders.
On June 2, the police raided several Hindu fundamentalist outfits and took about 200 of such activists in neighboring Warangal district into custody for questioning. The activists were released the following morning.
According to news reports, the police authorities also raided the local office of the Hindu nationalist outfit, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and took four activists in for questioning.
K. Trivikrama Rao, a spokesperson for Hindu Vahini (Hindu army), has, however, denied the involvement of Hindu groups in the two killings and has offered to cooperate in police investigations.
Meanwhile, Pastor Rajus son, Satya Prasad, has alleged that the Anti-Christian Forum (ACF), a group based in Warangal district, has murdered his father. According to Prasad, the group had also owned up to killing Rev. Daniel. However, Deputy Police Commissioner (DCP) B. Srinivasulu has denied the existence of such a forum.
According to Prasad, a person identifying himself as Vinod had called up his father early in the morning of May 24 and had requested him to go conduct a prayer at the man's house because of a wedding ceremony. The caller, however, did not arrive at the specified time to take Pastor Raju. Another call came soon thereafter, following which Pastor Raju left alone, never to return again, Prasad recalled.
Following his disappearance, police launched a massive manhunt. The situation was particularly worrying, as K. Daniel had also been approached regarding a wedding ceremony before his disappearance, according to an Associated Press (AP) report on June 5.
On June 4, the police released a sketch of Vinod, with whom Pastor Raju was last seen. The police probe is considering the possibility that Pastor Raju and Daniel were victims of religious hatred. However, police are simultaneously looking into personal, financial and communal angles, according to Additional Commissioner of Police (ACP) A.K. Khan.
Failing to make any headway in the investigations, the police have even announced a reward of Rs. 1 lakh for any information or clues to the killings.
Rev. Daniel's wife, K. Apseba, said some people had threatened Daniel over his religious activities in the past.
The designs of religious fundamentalists could be easily seen in this incident and we condemn their acts. We demand that whoever may be the culprits, they should be punished, said Sam Paul, public affairs secretary of the All India Christian Council. Pastor K. Daniel had been threatened many times by the local Rashtrya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Therefore, we highly suspect that religious fundamentalists were behind the brutal murder.
We dont know whats happening, but we are scared, he continued. Someone called and told the police that [Rajus] body was lying there. At first the police could not find the body. Then another call came, giving precise directions, and the body was found.
The same thing happened in Daniels case. They called to tell where the body was. Its a very planned way of terrorizing the Christian community, he added. The body was so badly decomposed that it could not be recognized. The police identified him from his belt and clothes.
Like Satya Prasad, Sam Paul believes that some anti-Christian groups may be behind the killings. In fact, an anonymous letter was sent to a local newspaper, claiming the murders were carried out by an organization called the Anti-Christian Forum, he recalled. Commenting on the letter that was published in the local newspaper on May 31, he said, The release said that [the Anti-Christian Forum] was responsible for Daniels death and that they would repeat such killings. We didnt take it seriously at the time, thinking it was a ploy, but the police are now investigating who is behind this organization.
According to Martin Michael, president of the Catholic Association of Hyderabad, identifying the group behind the "brutal murders" is necessary before justice can be sought.
The Andhra Pradesh Council of Churches has urged the local Christian community to wake up to the threats posed by the religious fanatics who are out to tarnish the image of Christians in Andhra Pradesh, a state whose government is headed by a Christian member of the Congress party.
Sleeva Galeli, general secretary of the United Forum for Dalit Christian Rights, has hinted that the killings may also be attempts to embarrass the state director-general of police, Swaranjit Sen, also a Christian. Galeli has alleged that a strong lobby of senior police officers opposes Sen.
Sen could be blamed if he sided with the Christians, but even if he does not, he could be branded as inefficient, Galeli feared.
Galeli also suspects that the recent visit to Hyderabad by Ashok Singhal, president of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP - World Hindu Council), might have encouraged Hindu groups to carry out such killings. "It is a serious matter, if there is a conspiracy behind the murders," he added.
G. Alfred, chairperson of the United Front for Dalit Christian Rights, has called for a debate on conversions in the context of the killings.
Right-wing Hindu groups have frequently charged that Christians use their social service institutes and organizations as veils for widespread conversion. However, Alfred has countered such charges, claiming that 90 percent of the students in Christian educational institutions are not Christians and hardly anyone has converted to Christianity. He also noted that 95 percent of patients treated at Christian hospitals are from other religions.
Pastors of larger churches are not scared, but others, those who live and work alone on the outskirts of the city, are really scared. There are at least 200 to 300 of them, Paul noted.
There are approximately 1,500 churches in Hyderabad city, and the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Y. Rajshekhar Reddy, is a Christian.
Christian Today has also confirmed that the Christian community in Hyderabad was planning a peace march and a meeting with Y.R. Reddy to discuss security concerns.