Several gunmen opened fire on Christians inside a Pentecostal church in Punjab, killing one and injuring three more, UCA News reported Monday.
The pastor’s son, Jaspal Masih, said that four persons armed with guns entered the church around 2:00pm on October 23 and opened fire as a group of Christians were leaving the church following a special prayer meeting.
“I laid [sic] flat on the ground and saved my life,” he said.
The assailants, led by Randeep Gill, chairman of the All India Akhil Valmiki Dharam Samaj, and his brother Balram Gill, shot 35-year-old Prince Atwal in the head and chest, killing him instantly. Masih said that Atwal had had a dispute with Gill some months ago and seemed to be the prime target of the assault.
“That was when Gill tried to disrupt another prayer meeting on alleged charges of religious conversion,” Masih said. “Christians in the state are terrified and angry.”
Atwal’s brother, who was present at the prayer meeting, was also seriously injured in the attack.
So far, police have arrested three persons connected with the attack and are still searching for four others who escaped, according to local Christian leaders.
Along with the gunmen who entered the church, at least two others stayed outside the church keeping their vehicles’ engines running to allow for a swift getaway following the assault.
UCA News reported that allegations of conversion followed by attacks form part of an organized campaign against Christians, who make up just over 2 percent of India’s mostly Hindu population of 1.3 billion people.
The latest report by Persecution Relief, an ecumenical forum in India, shows a significant increase in attacks against Christians in India over the last five years.
The third-quarter report, released on October 15, chronicled 157 cases of persecution of Christians, including four murders, between July 1 and September 30, 2020.
“Our findings are based on those who make direct calls to our toll-free numbers and others who inform us,” said Persecution Relief founder Shibu Thomas, adding that these recorded incidents are “only the tip of an iceberg.”
Christians do not report many incidents “for fear of retribution from the attackers and also of police and other government officials, who are hand in glove with the attackers, mostly right-wing Hindu activists,” Thomas said.
According to International Christian Concern (ICC), attacks on Christians and their churches in India continue to be reported in greater number and severity.
“Much of the violence is perpetrated by radical Hindu nationalists who believe they have the tacit approval of the BJP-led government to perpetrate acts of violence against India’s religious minorities,” ICC noted.