A mob of radical Hindu nationalists attacked a pastor, manhandled his wife and forced him to perform Hindu rituals against his free will in Belgaum’s Halaga village, according to the Morning Star News.
Pastor Sanjay Bhandari and his wife were at his sister-in-law's house on April 5 when a group of men barged in, grabbed the pastor by the collar of his shirt and marched him to a place where 50 to 60 Hindu extremists were waiting. They accused the pastor of converting people.
“I tried very hard to explain that it was my relatives’ house, and that we were only paying them a casual visit, but the men refused to listen,” Pastor Bhandari told the Morning Star News.
The crowd beat and kicked the pastor all the way to the leased worship hall where he led Sunday services.
“They abused me and Jesus Christ in filthy language and pressured me to hail, ‘Jai Sri Ram’, as they beat me,” said Pastor Bhandari. “They hit me on my private parts, my face, chest and all over my body accusing me of trying to convert my sister-in-law. I tried telling them that the home belongs to my sister-in-law, and that they are already Christians and members of my church.”
The pastor's wife was also assaulted by the mob as she attempted to protect her husband.
The mob began performing Hindu rituals on Pastor Bhandari as soon as they arrived at the worship hall, adding kumkum and haldi to his head and forehead. As part of the ritual, they also forced the pastor to apply kumkum to his wife's forehead.
When the pastor declined, the crowd threatened that if he did not do it, one of them would. As a result, he added it to the wife's forehead but did not fill in the hair partition.
“They tortured Pastor Sanjay physically and mentally,” Santosh Satpute, a member of Pastor Bhandari’s church, told the Morning Star News. “He was forced to perform Hindu rituals against his free will. The harassment and torture he went through is beyond description.”
The mob warned Pastor Bhandari not to return to the area and threatened to chop him into bits if he conducted church again.
Before leaving, “They warned that they would chop me to pieces if I conduct church again,” said Pastor Bhandari.
When the pastor went to the Shahpura police station to file a complaint, the officers told him to first get hospitalized and get a medical report. Only then will they take action.
The following day, Christian leaders demanded that the police file charges under the Indian Penal Code against seven assailants for unlawful assembly, rioting, voluntarily causing harm, wrongful restraint, provocation, and criminal intimidation.
However, the pastor's complaint was only registered after a memorandum was sent to higher officials.
Pastor Bhandari’s attorney told the Morning Star News that “On the evening of the incident, we gave a memorandum to the Deputy Commissioner of Belgaum. I spoke to the media directly, and it was only then that the FIR was registered.”
According to the officer investigating the incident, the seven suspects were given a notice to appear before the police.
“We have done all the investigation proceedings. We are waiting for the wound certificate from the hospital, and then we will immediately send the charge sheet to the court,” the officer told the Morning Star News. “We have given requisition to the hospital in writing and are waiting to hear from them; only then we can proceed.”
Ramesh slammed the police delays. “We will have to fight on higher levels to be heard. They are intentionally targeting the Christian community, pastors and followers of the faith. They are working under a well-planned strategy,” he said.
The attack was strongly criticized by Reverend T. Thomas, President of the Belgaum Karnataka Pastors Association. “Initially churches and Christian gatherings were attacked – it is extremely shocking that now a personal visit to your own relative’s house is also objectionable, and you can face the brutality of the Hindu goons,” he told the Morning Star News.
“We will not keep silent. We will take this up with the authorities,” he said.