Communal tension grips Tamil Nadu's Erode as scuffle between two communities during Sunday prayers takes ugly turn

Miscreants attacked Prathiba (40), wife of local pastor Paul Stephen, as she was conducting Sunday prayers at the church in Paguthampalayam, a village in Sathyamangalam sub-division of Tamil Nadu's Erode district.

According to advocate Tamil Rajendiran, Pratibha was allegedly attacked by five people belonging to the Hindu Munnani group on Sunday morning while she was organising a prayer in her house in AD Colony in Paguthampalayam.

Tamil Nadu Police personnel. Image source News18

Tamil Nadu Police personnel. Image source News18

The police confirmed the arrests. Two FIRs have been filed in the Bhavanisagar police station.

The Hindu Munnani's state joint organiser Rajesh said that the group has filed a complaint against the pastor and his family for attacking members of the organisation. Stephen has also filed a case. The main assailant, Ajith, has been arrested in the latter case and two persons, George, the father of Prathiba, and Gnanaprasad, her elder brother have been arrested in the former case.

"In the morning, a scuffle broke out between two groups during which members from both groups sustained bleeding injuries. Two FIRs have been filed in the Bhavanisagar Police Station," said Sathyamangalam DSP K Palanisamy.

This version is disputed by the Christians who said that there was an unprovoked attack on the worshippers in the church at around 10.20 am, and another attack at about 2 pm after the pastor returned from his church service elsewhere.

"They tried to rape Prathiba and tore her clothes. They touched her bare body and molested her and went back," Rajendiran, who has been offering legal help to the pastor and his family, claimed.

"The attackers allegedly returned at around 2 pm when the pastor was also at home, this time with 20 more people and started attacking the pastor, his wife, and other family members. During the scuffle, pastor's father-in-law George, mother-in-law Packiyam, and his brother-in-law Prasanth were also attacked," he said.

According to the advocate, one of the attackers allegedly threw a heavy stone on Stephen’s chest while he had fallen to the ground.

Rajendiran said that neither the pastor nor his family members have suffered any life-threatening injuries. "They have suffered some contusion and swelling," he said. However, Stephen said his wife was suffering from severe stomachache as she had been kicked in the abdomen, and was not in a position to speak.

According to Joe David, the president of the Synod of Pentecostal Churches, to which the said church belongs, the pastor and his wife were refused treatment in the Sathyamangalam government Hospital and they had to proceed to Coimbatore for treatment. They are both currently admitted at a government hospital in Coimbatore.

The Sathyamangalam DSP said that those who were attacked should've come to him instead of deciding to pick up a confrontation. According to him, the first incident took place in the morning and escalated after the group decided to question the attackers themselves. In the afternoon, when the pastor approached members of the Hindu outfit with some of his family members, both parties suffered injuries, Palaniswamy said.

According to Palaniswamy, scuffles like this between religious groups have become common on Sundays in Sathyamangalam.

David said that he has been working with Stephen for several years, and the local SC community where he was working. The residents were very cooperative and even had given them the little patch of land where they had put up the thatch structure of the church. It was only since the last three years that there had been trouble, after Gurusamy, district president of the Hindu Munnani, began to be active in the area. Ever since, the Hindu Munnani had been talking to the residents of the colony and has started creating disturbances on Sundays during church services, said the president of the Synod of Pentecostal Churches.

Stephen also confirmed the above. He said that in the year 2015 there had been the first attack by some youths including Magesh and Vinoth. Asked if they had not filed a complaint then, Stephen said, "Soon after this they had also been caught in a kidnapping case and had been arrested and taken to jail. We too did not have the resources to follow up the case so we left it. But whenever there was some trouble, which was every three to six months, we used to approach the SP or the DC, and they always gave us assurances that we could worship without fear. But these people continue to disturb us now and then. This was not the case earlier."

David said that the residents of the AD colony, all SCs, work for the dominant Gounder community and Gurusamy and his colleague Saktivel of the Hindu Munnani are Gounders. This caste factor becomes very useful for the dominant groups to make the SCs cooperate with them.

"About one-and-a-half months back, the administration called a peace committee to discuss two attacks, one in Satyamangalam and one in Bavanisagar. In both the committees, this man Gurusamy sits as the representative of the complainant, when he is neither a resident nor a local person who is affected by the worship services. When asked why he was there, he says that the people come to him with their complaints. Often the alleged complainants also don’t know what is being claimed on their behalf," claims David, who attends the meetings as the leader of the church.

DSP Palanisamy said that the police had so far managed to keep things under control by settling differences between warring religious groups, however, on Sunday, the incident went out of hands after members from both groups attacked each other and suffered injuries.

Stephen also said that the police attempted to arrest him and Prathiba, but as they are under treatment in Coimbatore, this has not been possible. They are approaching the courts for anticipatory bail through lawyers.

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Updated Date: Jul 11, 2018 18:07:22 IST

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