Two Christian pastors in India, who are father and son, were attacked and beaten by hardline Hindu extremists wielding metal rods and a knife in what is believed to have been an "attempt at murder," a leading Christian persecution nonprofit has reported.
Pastor Daniel Jebraj, 28, from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu told Morning Star News, a donor-funded media outlet dedicated to sharing the stories of persecuted Christians, that he was on his way home on July 18 when he noticed a group of five men sitting outside of the gate of his church.
The men were allegedly smoking, drinking and making fun of Christianity. Jebraj said that he asked the men to leave and take their activities elsewhere. However, Jebraj said that he was not aware that "they were waiting for me."
"They pulled out the weapons and attacked me," Jebraj said, adding that he was struck with wooden sticks, steel rods and a butcher knife.
While Jebraj was getting assaulted, his father rushed to his aid. Jebraj's father, 61-year-old Pastor Muniyandi Elangoan Jebraj, was also beaten.
According to Morning Star News, the attackers were identified as being members of a local branch of the Hindu nationalist organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh called Hindu Makkal Katch.
"They were spewing very dangerous words — I can't say such words, they are highly derogatory and foul," Daniel Jebraj explained. "My father came out running, and he too was beaten."
According to Dr. Ron Rajendran, both father and son suffered injuries from the attack. The doctor told Morning Star News that the elder pastor suffered a brain injury and has been referred to Nagapattinam Medical College to consult a neurologist. Meanwhile, his son needed stitches.
"Soft tissue in his brain is injured," Rajendran said of the elder Jebraj. "And Daniel's bruises and cuts had to be stitched."
Police Superintendent Abhinav Kumar denied a religious motive for the attack when he spoke to the nonprofit about the Jebraj case. Kumar claimed that a police report has been filed and that two men accused of being involved in the attack have been arrested.
"It is a simple, independent incident," the superintendent said. "There is no groupism, no enmity between two groups. One of the accused belongs to a minority."
One of the men arrested and accused of involvement in the attack is a Hindu man identified by police only as Hariharan. The other is an 18-year-old Muslim boy named Mhamadhu Abdullah Barish. The charges pressed against the two men could carry a punishment of up to seven years in prison, Morning Start News reports.
However, Daniel Jebraj has denied that Barish was involved in the attack and explained that Barish is the one who helped him and his father to the hospital after the attack.
"The police falsely framed the boy to prevent exposing the case as Hindu extremist violence on Christians," Jebraj claimed. "Abdullah has no relation to this case. He heard our screams and came and tried to take us to the hospital. He did not beat us."
Jebraj is not the only one claiming that Barish had nothing to do with the assault. The district vice president of a group called Tamil Muslim Munnetra Kazagham, which works for Muslim rights in the state, agreed with Jebraj's assertion.
"Abdullah is falsely framed in the church priest's attack," the group's vice president, who wanted to be identified only by the name Mujheebudhin, told Morning Star News. "When the pastor complained against the five accused, identifying them as Hindu Makkal Katchi activists, police arrested a minority community boy to show there is no communal violence in the state."
Jebraj argued that the attack against him and his father was premeditated and an "attempt to murder" because of the Hindu nationalist group's opposition to the fact that Christianity has grown in Tamil Nadu over the last five years.
The attack on the father and son come as a 50-year-old pastor in India named Sultan Masih was shot and killed outside of his church by gunmen on motorcycles.
Open Doors USA currently ranks India as the 15th worst country in the world when it comes to the level of Christian persecution. Open Doors USA notes that since the Bharatiya Janata Party took power with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's election in 2014, radical Hinduism has "increased steadily."
"While the level of intolerance continues to increase, Christians are regularly attacked by radical Hindus," an Open Doors fact sheet on India reads. "The level of impunity has gone up markedly, with communities of converts to Christianity from Hinduism bearing the brunt of the persecution."
Thousands of Indians in cities all across the country have protested against Hindu mob violence against minorities.