A church service in Asansol, West Bengal, was violently disrupted by a group of young men on 31 December. When
questioned, members of the group later claimed that the church’s pastor was converting people and that they objected to the large number of people gathering at the church.
Paul Asansol, pastor of the Full Gospel Church in West Bardhaman district, told CSW that the men had been regularly disrupting the church’s services and harassing its members for several months, including by playing loud music directly outside the church during Sunday services. On one Sunday in December, the church was forced to finish its service early because the music was too loud for the congregants to hear the preacher or any prayers or sung worship.
Recalling the incident on 31 December, Pastor Asansol told CSW: ‘We started our watchnight service at about 9.30pm. Within minutes, they came with their sound system, placed it outside our church and began playing loud music. We called the police and asked them to request the boys to turn it down till our service was over. But within a few minutes, one stone was hurled. We continued praying.’
‘Suddenly, the intensity increased. Stones were being continuously hurled on the tin sheet shed, it sounded so frightening. There were about 3000 people in our church. They were also so afraid. We sent four volunteers to ask the men to stop throwing the stones. The ones who were causing the trouble were really young, some in the late teens and some in the early 20s. They were throwing stones from a vacant ground nearby. When our men went to request them to stop doing that, they pounced on them and started beating them up. Three of our men escaped and ran back to the church. But one man named Shubam Verma couldn’t escape. They beat him up so bad that his lips were cut open and he fell unconscious among the rubble.’
‘We went out looking for him and found him under the rubble and took him to the hospital. Meanwhile, the church folks caught two boys and brought them to the South PP Police station and handed them over to the police. This angered the villagers (parents and neighbours of the young men) even more and the stone throwing increased. The police however came immediately and gave us protection till we ended the service.’
According to Pastor Asansol, a large mob gathered outside his house the next day at 9am. His daughter locked the gate to prevent the group from entering their property, but the mob proceeded to throw stones at the house, breaking several windows and damaging the pastor’s car.
Local police gave protection to Pastor Asansol and his family in the days immediately after the attack. The family filed a complaint at the South PP station, but a First Information Report (FIR), which is required for the police to begin an investigation, has not been registered.
On 8 January, the police called the pastor’s family and members of the mob in an attempt to resolve the situation. On being questioned as to what their issue with Pastor Asansol was, the men said they did not like the fact that so many people were gathering in the church and worshipping, and accused the pastor of converting people.
CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: ‘CSW is concerned that this mob was permitted to continually harass members of the Full Gospel Church for months prior to the violent incident on New Year’s Eve. We call on authorities in the area to act swiftly to bring those responsible for the assault on Shubam Verma and the attacks on the church and Pastor Asansol’s home to justice. We also remind the Indian government of its responsibility to crack down on sectarian narratives and tensions, and to ensure that no government ministers are responsible for rhetoric that stokes such tensions.’ — Christian Solidarity Worldwide USA