Agra (India): It took police in Agra’s Tajganj just five hours to register an FIR against seven pastors on allegations of promoting enmity between two groups on religious grounds. But it took them more than 24 hours to register a case against the eight named, some of them linked to the VHP (Vishwa Hidu Parishad), and 15 unidentified persons on a cross-complaint of assault filed by one of the pastors, police records show.

The pastor, Ravi Kumar, had alleged in his complaint that around 20-25 men shouting slogans of “Jai Shri Ram” barged into a meeting being held at a Agra hotel Tuesday, assaulted the pastors with hockey sticks, and tore the clothes of women attending the event and dragged them by their hair.

According to Tajganj police, they are probing claims of religious conversion at the hotel while the investigation against the men from “different right-wing groups” accused of assault is yet to start as “they are absconding”. A VHP office-bearer said they had sent two karyakartas  (workers) to record the function when the situation “got out of hand”.

Asked about the delay in registering an FIR on the pastor’s complaint, Station House Officer (Tajganj) Vinod Kumar told The Indian Express: “The charges against the pastors is not such a big thing. Also, there are more sections in the FIR against the men accused of disrupting the event. The pastors were scared to register an FIR so they came the next day to the station. I gave the pastors bail, too. If they were holding a religious function, police should have been informed and we could have deputed personnel for their safety.”

The pastors, who were released Tuesday evening on personal bond, have claimed that the meeting, organized under the banner of ‘Uttar Pradesh family church’, was held to chalk out plans for Christmas. They have been charged under IPC sections 153 A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, etc) and 295 A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs).

The men accused of assault have been charged under six IPC sections: 147 (rioting), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke peace), 294 (obscene acts and songs), 354 (assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage modesty), 354 B (assault or use of criminal force on woman with intent to disrobe) and 427 (mischief causing damage to the amount of Rs 50 or more).

According to Kumar, the pastors from different churches of the Pentecostal denomination, including some from Kerala, were holding an annual family convention at the Samovar Hotel with more than 100 people in attendance.

“Around 4.30 pm, more than 20 men armed with hockey sticks barged into the basement where the gathering was being held, shouting slogans of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and hurling abuse. They started beating us with hockey sticks. Three women were molested… even their clothes were torn off during the fight,” according to the FIR registered on Kumar’s complaint.

The FIR registered on the complaint filed against the pastors by a man identified as Sunny Bandar read: “We heard of a satsang at Hotel Samovar and I went there. In that satsang, they praised the Christian religion and insulted the Hindu religion… they used insulting words for the Hindu religion, which hurt our religious sentiments.”

Bandar’s complaint makes no mention of the fight and states that he and the others with him had got “some of men who hurt their religious sentiments” to the police station.

According to Tajganj police, the men who got the pastors to the station submitted their complaint at the time, which was converted into an FIR. “The hotel has told us that they do not have CCTV cameras in the basement. If there was a conversion, any footage would be crucial. The men accused of assault are from different right-wing groups and they are absconding. From what we know, the attack against the pastors was not organised and just a random act of violence,” SHO Kumar said.

Speaking to The Indian Express, VHP’s regional vice-president, Sunil Parashar, said: “We got information about religious conversion and sent two karyakartas to the congregation. They tried to record the proceedings and report the matter to us but it got out of hand after they were spotted by the church-goers.”

Ravi Dubey, one of the accused in the FIR registered on the pastor’s complaint, identified himself as the VHP’s local communications chief. “We were conducting inquiries into the church after they made contact with some poor people in several localities. They distributed medicines and text books to them. We cannot tolerate this as this is a clear ploy of conversion, which is why the fight took place,” Dubey told The Indian Express.

On Thursday morning, four of the injured pastors were undergoing treatment at the Agra district hospital, with three of their associates standing guard.

“Most of the people at the congregation were South Indians and around five-six were from Kerala. I was standing next to the door when the men came in and beat me with sticks. They kept hitting my legs and I do not understand Hindi. I just kept saying “Bhaiyya nahin (Brother, don’t). But they kept hitting me,” said Pastor Sam Kumar from Kerala.

The complainant Ravi Kumar, an Agra-based pastor, had a swollen black eye and a cut on his cheek. “I have sustained injuries to my chest and am finding it difficult to move. The men dragged me and four-five others to the police station. They made us walk for a kilometre, abusing us on the street, before handing us to the police. The police listened to them while we were kept inside a cabin at the station. We wanted to register our complaint but the police did not listen to us,” Kumar alleged.

Sam Kumar, meanwhile, had a hard time at the hospital consoling his three-year-old daughter who had witnessed the violence. “She has been uneasy after watching the women around her being dragged and beaten. How do I explain this to her?” he said.

source: Indian Express