India (Morning Star News) – A week after a pastor fell into a coma following harassment by hard-line Hindus in southern India, a gang of Hindu extremists in the same state beat another pastor after he prayed for healing at the home of an elderly church member, family members said.
Police altered the statement of the Rev. Gandham Padma Rao, 49, so that the 10 young men who assaulted him on Jan. 27 in Medipally village, Telangana state, were described only as drunken youths, not members of a Hindu nationalist group as the pastor had stated, his son told Morning Star News.
Pastor Rao fulfilled church duties the two days after the assault before seeking medical help, and doctors told family members that his blood pressure was so high that he could have suffered a hemorrhage had he waited any longer. Another pastor, 47-year-old K.A. Swamy of Hyderabad, on Jan. 21 fell into a coma after suffering high blood pressure and a brain hemorrhage hours after Hindu extremists threatened him with highly offensive language and took him to police for distributing Bibles.
Pastor Rau’s son, Samuel Mark, told Morning Star News his father had left the home of the elderly church member, who had just been released from a hospital, at about 9:30 p.m. and was walking to his car when the young men blocked his way with their motorcycles.
When the pastor ignored them and began walking on the other side of the road, one of the assailants shouted, “Why are you coming to our village? Why are you praying here?” as four others began hitting him, knocking him to the ground, relatives said.
Pastor Rao and eyewitnesses said the youths were members of the Hindu nationalist Vishwa Hindu Vahini.
“They spoke to me in vulgar language: ‘You must never come to our village to pray. You should never enter our village,’” Pastor Rao told Morning Star News.
Two of the assailants held him while the others punched and kicked him, he said.
“I could not balance myself and fell in a pit nearby,” he said. “They picked me up, threw me on the road and started battering me again. I tried hard to regain my strength and run, but they followed me quickly held my collar, pushed me off with their feet. When I fell down again, they began kicking and beating me again.”
One of the Hindu extremists tried to pick up a large stone and throw it at him, he said. Area residents heard his cries and came out of their homes, including a member of his church who came running and cried out for help.
The church member, identified only as Mariyamma, along with her relatives and other area residents said the assailants were members of the Vishwa Hindu Vahini. A First Information Report was filed in the NTPC Ramagundam police station, but police removed references to the Hindu nationalist group from Pastor Rao’s statement and described the assailants only as drunken wage workers, his son said.
Sub-Inspector P. Chandra Kumar told Morning Star News only that the suspects were young men in police custody.
“The investigation is not yet completed,” he said. “Yes, it is true that the pastor was beaten and the attackers were all youngsters in between ages 24 and 27.”
He declined to reveal the identity of the assailants, but sources said the primary suspect, Chandragiri Shiva Prasad, was in custody.
Pastor Rao drove back to his home in Ramakrishnapuram, where he conducted a baptism ceremony at his church the next day. The following day (Jan. 29), he took painkillers and carried out duties at his church’s Sunday service, but later that afternoon he felt light-headed and was taken to a hospital.
His blood pressure was 200 over 140 mmHg, Dr. D.B. Vamsi told Morning Star News, and the pastor was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit at Medilife Hospital, Mancherial. A hypertensive crisis is said to begin when blood pressure reaches 180 over 110 mmHG.
“The patient complained of pain,” Vamsi said. “Immediately after we heard about the assault, we sent for more tests. His pains will last for a few weeks.”
The pastor’s family members told Morning Star News that the church’s cross was uprooted and broken two years ago. The church’s sound equipment was destroyed a year ago, and in December, while he joined in Christmas carols, the pastor’s car was punctured with nails, they said.
Family members and visiting pastors said the attack appeared to have been planned. They said the Hindu extremists knew how to strike him so that there would be no bleeding but multiple contusions.
The pastor’s son told Morning Star that his father has been unable to lie down since his back was severely bruised.
“My dad went to visit the families who had been attending our church over years now,” he said. “He had no business to do with the assailants. He didn’t bother anyone. He didn’t even respond to them when they shouted at him. All of a sudden, they began kicking him on the road. Don’t you see it was all planned?”