By BosNewsLife News Center
NEW DELHI, INDIA (BosNewsLife) — Police in India's northeastern state of Punjab have urged Christians to remain calm and promised protection after a house church in Bhatinda district was attacked by Hindu extremists during an Easter service, news reports said Tuesday, May 9.
Sukh Pal Singh, a member of the nationalist Hindu group Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) or 'World Hindu Council' led five militants April 16 who disrupted the service at the House of Prayer, an independent church. The militants also warned the church not to hold further meetings.
"I have asked the Bhatinda police superintendent to look into the matter. Rest assured of the safety of Christians," senior police official Virender Kumar told Compass Direct, a Christian news agency.
Pastor Francis, who uses only one name apparently for fear of repercussions, was quoted as saying that police had taken statements from church members and would do the same with the accused. "On the basis of these statements the police will arrange a compromise meeting between ourselves and the accused," he reportedly said.
Francis said that "five people carrying sticks stormed the Easter service," attended by 200 Christians, which was taking place on the terrace of his house at 11 am local time on April 16. "Initially, they stood outside my house and warned the Christians who were coming to attend the service not to enter the house. Later they came onto the terrace and started shouting, demanding that we stop the prayer right away," he added.
They apparently attempted to vandalize the canvas awning that was pitched on the terrace to provide shade during the service, and started verbally abusing women. The men reportedly shouted anti-Christian slogans, saying Jesus Christ was "an illegitimate child", and accused church members of offering money to Hindus to convert them.
Christians attending the church phoned police and "as soon as the police reached the house, the extremists started running away. However, the police managed to catch three of them," said Francis.
Those three were identified as Yogesh Batish, a leader of the Hindu hard-line group Shiv Sena; Vivek, alias Appu, also from Shiv Sena, and a man known only as Suraj. 35 extremists other militants were about to join the attack, but fled when the police arrived, news reports said.
Despite warnings from fleeing militants not to conduct a prayer meeting the following Sunday, Francis reportedly continued and has held meetings under police protection.
It comes after previous reported attacks against several other Christian gatherings in the state. Human rights groups and churches have expressed concern over growing pressure on missionaries, church leaders and individual believers amid concern among nationalist groups over the spread of Christianity in the predominantly Hindu nation.
Punjab has been among regions suffering under controversial traditions related to Hindu thoughts, including reports of killings of newborn girls, observers say. On Tuesday, May 8, a small village in Punjab was however celebrating as for the first time in nearly 60 years, female births outnumbered male births, media said.
In a survey of 70 villages in the northwestern state of Punjab, only one village, Lakhanpal, reportedly showed girls under six years old outnumbering boys in the same age group.
Female feticide has been a major problem in the state of Punjab, where on an average there are 874 females per 1,000 males, United Press International (UPI) said. In Lakhanpal, 15 miles (24 kilometers) from Jalandhar, the district capital, villagers were quoted as saying they are happy that the village "removed the sin" of female feticide and no longer will be dubbed "as killers of their own daughters."
The records are not same for other regions of Punjab, such as Fatehgarh Sahib, which has a mere 754 females for every 1,000 males. In the rest of India there are 927 females for every 1,000 males, while in the United States there are 1,029 females for every 971 males, UPI reported. (With BosNewsLife Research and reports from India).
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