Police Inspector Hari Krishna Mandal told that the attacker, Rajesh Singh, had come fully prepared to kill the pastor, Vinod Kumar, in Baraw village in the Nasriganj area of Rohtas district, and then take his own life.
“However,” Mandal said, “believers caught him before he could do more damage or kill himself.”
The 35-year-old pastor was taken to a hospital in nearby Varanasi, in the neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh and at press time was out of danger of losing his life, according to a leader of Gospel Echoing Missionary Society (GEMS) who requested anonymity.
The church, Prarthana Bhawan (House of Prayer), belongs to GEMS. Around 30 people were in the church when the attack took place. Some women in the church sustained burns in the blast.
“Rajesh Singh threw a crude bomb from the window of the church, and the sound of the explosion created a chaos in the congregation,” said Inspector Mandal. As members of the church began to run out, he added, Singh came into the building and shot the pastor with a handmade pistol from point-blank range.
Singh had more bombs to explode and three more bullets in his pistol, but church members caught hold of him and handed him over to police, the inspector said.
“In his statement, Singh said he was personally against Christian conversions and wanted to kill the pastor to stop conversions,” Mandal said. “He wanted to take his own life after killing the pastor, and this is why he had more bullets in his pistol and an overdose of anesthesia in a syringe.”
Asked if Singh had any links with extremist Hindu nationalist groups, the inspector said no such organization was active in the area, though local Christians say Hindu extremist presence has increased recently. The GEMS source said people allegedly linked with a Hindu nationalist group had sent a threatening letter to the pastor, asking him to stop preaching in the area.
The source said the incident could have been fallout from conversions in nearby Mithnipur village, where a Hindu family had received Christ after being healed from a mental illness around six months ago. Singh also lives in Mithnipur.
“Pastor Kumar had not been visiting the village, fearing opposition from the villagers who were not happy with the conversion of this family,” the GEMS source said. “The same church’s cross had also been damaged about a year ago by unidentified people.”
The source said he believes that although Singh’s affiliation or linkage with a Hindu nationalist group has not been established, it is likely that he was instigated to kill the pastor by an extremist group. Pastor Kumar, married with three children, has been working in Rohtas district for the last 12 years.
Local Christians complain that the presence of the Hindu extremist Sangh Parivar (a family of organizations linked with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS, India’s chief Hindu nationalist group) has recently increased in the area. They say the Hindu nationalist conglomerate has been spewing hate against Christians for more than 10 years, accusing them of using monetary incentives and fraudulent means and foreign money to convert Hindus.
The attacker has an amputated hand and was said to be mentally disturbed since 1996, when he was diagnosed with cancer, Inspector Mandal said.
“According to the villagers,” he said, “Singh had been mentally disturbed ever since he was diagnosed with cancer, and later tuberculosis, although there is no medical report to substantiate this.”
The government of Bihar is ruled by a coalition of a regional party, the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) party, and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The JD-U is also part of the National Democratic Alliance, the main opposition coalition at the federal level led by the BJP. The JD-U, however, is not perceived as a supporter of Hindu nationalism.
Of the 82 million people, mostly Hindu, in Bihar, only 53,137 are Christian, according to the 2001 census.