Pastor Contracts COVID-19 after Assault in Eastern India

Wife knocked unconscious, uncle injured – and criminally charged.

Pinky Kumari with husband after assault in Bihar state, India on April 22, 2021. (Morning Star News)

Pinky Kumari with husband after assault in Bihar state, India on April 22, 2021. (Morning Star News)

(Update: On June 5, pastor Ramnivas Kumar died of COVID-19. The original story of May 26 follows.)

NEW DELHI (Morning Star News) – A pastor in eastern India contracted COVID-19 while seeking treatment at hospitals where personnel were reluctant to admit him for injuries sustained in a Hindu extremist assault last month, sources said.

Pastor Ramnivas Kumar suffered a hairline fracture of his shoulder and internal injuries in the April 22 assault in Pritamadi village, Ranjitpur Shivanagar in Sitamarhi District, Bihar state on him and his wife, Pinky Kumari, which left her unconscious. The Hindu villagers also assaulted the pastor’s uncle, Nagendra Thakur, who along with Kumari sustained head and internal injuries, along with bruising.

The day of the aattack, government hospital personnel initially delayed treating Pastor Kumar, saying they had to wait for police to arrive since it was an assault case.

“We waited for the police to arrive for a long time,” area Christian leader Solomon Ghosh told Morning Star News. “The police finally arrived at 3 p.m. and said that, ‘These people are involved in conversions, and therefore the villagers beat them up, so no police case can be made.’”

At 5 p.m. government hospital staff members told Christians leaders to take the victims to a private hospital. They reached a private hospital in Muzaffarpur, where staff members told them the facility was too full with COVID-19 patients to admit them, so they drove to a hospital in Sitamarhi and received treatment.

Pastor Ramnivas Kumari contracted COVID-19 after assault in Bihar state, India in April 2021. (Morning Star News)

Pastor Ramnivas Kumari contracted COVID-19 after assault in Bihar state, India in April 2021. (Morning Star News)

“After giving some medical treatment, the doctors at the hospital sent them home, expressing fear that they could contract COVID if they stayed in the hospital any longer,” Pastor Ghosh said.

Pastor Kumar and the others returned for check-ups five days later as instructed by doctors.

Asserting that the pastor became infected by having gone from one hospital to another, Kumari said he began exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms on May 4. After searching hard for a hospital with an oxygen cylinder, he was driven by ambulance to Duncan Hospital in Raxaul, 57 miles away. He was immediately admitted to the Intensive Care Unit and put on a ventilator, Pastor Ghosh said.

Pastor Kumar remained in ICU for 10 days, and by Saturday (May 22) he had stabilized and was moved to the general ward, Pastor Ghosh said.

Victim Charged

The assault was the seventh in 18 months, Kumari said.

At about 5 a.m. that day, she and her husband noticed villagers hiding outside with wooden sticks, iron rods and other weapons, she said. Pastor Kumar called his uncle, who arrived at about 8 a.m. as the pastor and his wife were leaving to visit a church member who had requested prayer.

“Suddenly a mob of about 10-12 people appeared,” said the 25-year-old Kumari. “Three men and a woman stepped forward and assaulted me. The woman slapped me, twisted my hand and then suddenly someone hit me with a spade, and I fell unconscious.”

She later regained consciousness to find the assailants hitting her husband. Kumari said she got up and tried to help him when she was hit again on the head and collapsed. She did not regain consciousness until she had been taken to a hospital at about noon.

After beating Kumar and his uncle, the three men and the woman left, warning that they would kill them if they did not renounce their Christian faith or leave the village, Kumar said.

She received four stitches on her head, while Thakur’s head wound required eight stitches.

The assailants also damaged their house, breaking the main gate and water tank, and took some valuables.

Pastor Kumar’s church has faced violent opposition from Hindu villagers since they began Sunday worship in his house in November 2019, Kumari said.

Kumar has regularly visited the Punaura police station to submit complaints about the attacks, but police have never acted, Kumari said. Officers refused to file a complaint from Pastor Kumar on April 22 but agreed to register one the following day after a Christian leader from Patna intervened.

“The police have yet to take action even though we registered a First Information Report then,” said Pastor Ghosh.

Instead of addressing the victims’ complaints, police registered a counter complaint against Thakur on April 25 at the Punaura police station under sections of the Indian Penal Code for wrongful restraint, voluntarily causing hurt, voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons, theft, outraging a woman’s modesty, insult and provocation. The same people who assaulted the Christians filed the complaint against Thakur.

Denying the allegations, Pastor Kumar told Morning Star News that the complaint against Thakur, his uncle, is false and fictional in its entirety.

Questioned about the inaction on the complaints filed by Pastor Kumar, Station House Officer Shambhu Nath Singh of the Punaura police station told Morning Star News he could not comment.

“I have just been transferred to this police station, so I cannot comment on the actions taken on the previous complaints, but for the current complaint we are awaiting injury report from the hospital, and then we will take action,” he said.

Police Inaction

Since the 28-year-old Pastor Kumar returned to his native village after completing formal theological education in 2016, he has faced threats and opposition from villagers and his parents and siblings for becoming a Christian.

“We had about 100 church members, but some have given up their faith because of threats and ostracization from the villagers, and only about 70 remain,” Kumari said.

Pastor Kumar has submitted written complaints to senior police authorities in Sitamarhi for assaults on Nov. 24, 2019, March 5, 2020, July 13, 2020 and Aug. 12, 2020. He has also submitted complaints on July 15, 2020 and Sept. 10, 2020 to the Sub-Divisional Public Grievances Redressal Officer in Sitamarhi.

“We also submitted a video clip of an assault along with the written complaint at the Punaura police station, but they took no action in spite of all our complaints,” Kumari said.

Host Couple Attacked

Prior to the April 22 attack, Christian leaders in the state had advised the couple to leave the village temporarily.

“Otherwise, the villagers would have killed them,” Pastor Ghosh told Morning Star News.

The pastor and his wife moved to a church member’s house in another village five miles away. They were returning to check on the house and pray at the house of a church member when they were attacked on April 22.

On April 25-26 in the village where the pastor and his wife had taken refuge since Dec. 6, 2020, a mob of around 40 Hindus attacked the Christian couple that was housing them, beating them and their oldest son.

“One assaulter bit my wife’s cheek with his teeth,” said the husband, whose name is withheld for security reasons.

Police on April 26 took him and his family to a hospital for medical attention but did not register a formal complaint against the assailants, Pastor Ghosh said.

“Only after we checked for the FIR and found that the police had not registered any, we sent a complaint by registered post to the said police station,” he said.

The hostile tone of the National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, against non-Hindus, has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, religious rights advocates say.

India ranked 10th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2021 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, as it was in 2020. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position worsened after Modi came to power.

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(Updated June 7, 2021)


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