(Photo: Morning Star News)
Pastor Mallik Arjun knew something was wrong when he received a call from the mobile phone of his friend and fellow pastor in Gadag District, Karnataka state – but it was a stranger on the other end of the line.
The stranger told him that Pastor Nagesh Naik was being held at a hotel near Korlahalli village and to come and find him. It was a Sunday evening, Feb. 3, after Pastor Arjun's colleague had led a home worship of the Gypsy Mission church in a neighboring village.
"I went with three church members on two motorbikes, and we were looking for such hotel all through the way and could not find one," Pastor Arjun, of the Indian Pentecostal Church, told Morning Star News. "Finally we found a mob swelling up in a temple, and that was where they kept him – and as soon as we reached the temple, they accused us of forceful conversion and started to attack me, Pastor Nagesh and the other three Christians."
At Hanumanthappa temple in Korlahalli village, near Mundargi, the Hindu extremists beat and kicked the Christians, threatened to set them on fire and tried to force them to worship Hindu idols, Pastor Arjun said.
"They told us they will rape our wives and give twin children to us," he said. "I have never heard such foul abuse in my entire life."
Earlier, at about 7 p.m., some 200 Hindu extremists led by Laxman Gaji and another who goes by a single name, Gudadirayya, had stopped Pastor Naik as he made his way home after leading a worship service at a Christian's home in Sugar Factory quarters, near Sharanahalli village, according to attorney Moses Muragavel. They then took him to the temple before calling Pastor Arjun, said Muragavel, of the Karnataka Legal Aid Cell.
At one point during the ordeal, Pastor Arjun said, he kneeled down in a corner of the temple and began to pray.
"One extremist gripped me on my back, dragged me up and said, 'You are even praying to Jesus even in a Hindu temple,' and then he tried to force me to worship Hindu idols," he said. "I asked him why he was forcing me to worship idols and told him that nobody can force me, and I have the right to choose the God that I worship."
Pastor Naik added that the Hindu nationalists then threatened to set the Christians afire with kerosene.
"They were shouting to each other to take petrol from our bikes and burn us up," he said, adding that another extremist stopped them, saying, 'Do you want the whole village to go to jail?'"
Pastor Arjun said that the assailants then demanded that they leave Jesus and proclaim, "Praise my motherland, praise Lord Ram and praise Lord Krishna."
"I told them that I will never leave Jesus – that I can say, 'Praise my motherland,' but I will never say Jai Shree Ram or Jai Shree Krishna," Pastor Arjun said. "The extremists became more furious, and they continued to slap, kick and push us, and tore off our clothes."
The extremists also denigrated Pastor Naik for his Lamani ("gypsy") ethnic origin, saying he had converted to Christianity because he came from low caste, said Pastor Francis Xavier, president of Gadag Pastor Association.
Pastor Arjun received treatment at Mundargi Government Hospital for injuries to his right ear, back and nose, as did Pastor Naik for injuries to his head and neck, besides bruises covering his body. The other three church members received minor bruises.
The Hindu nationalists took the Christians to Mundargi Rural Police Station at about 10:30 that night and filed a complaint of forcible conversion. The two pastors were released at about 5 a.m. on Feb. 4 but had to report back to the police station at 10 a.m.
Police charged them with "promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs," and "acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention" under the Indian Penal Code.
The pastors were released on bail on Feb. 7, but they have to report to the police station on the second Sunday of every month until the charges against them are dropped.
Last Sunday (Feb. 10), Police Inspector Sunil A. Savdi and two officers from the Mundargi Police Station went to the Indian Pentecostal Church and questioned members about how long they had attended the church; how they came to know about it; and whether they had been offered money to attend.
All members said that they had come to the church on their own free will.