In a shocking series of unfortunate events, yet another Pastor was found dead in the Zira Tehsil of Ferozepur, a district that is situated in the Indian state of Punjab. The body of Balwinder Bagicha Bhatti was discovered by a few people by the roadside on the 27th of July 2020.
Joseph and Alisha, both Persecution Relief Coordinators of Punjab, visited the family to express their empathy and to extend support to the bereaved family in the best ways possible.
“My brother was on his way back from a village named Noorpur after visiting a believer’s home. At around 8:45 pm, a few people came and told us that they had seen my brother lying bleeding beside the road” said Balwinder’s sister, who lives with the family.
On receiving the dreadful news, Balwinder’s sister rushed to the spot in agony. “We saw him lying motionless beside the road and we immediately called an ambulance.” Unfortunately, for the Batti family, their worst fears came true when the doctors pronounced him dead on arrival.
The morning after the devastating incident, Hanook Bhatti met with the family of Balwinder on behalf of Persecution Relief. They took him to the spot where they found Balwinder the previous night.
Hanook Bhatti said that in the light of day, footprints of blood were seen on the road along with many blood stains scattered all over. The family believes that the Pastor was brutally assaulted and tried to escape his attackers but was ultimately killed owing to the fact that they found him with his clothes tattered and his shoes scrapped, as if he was dragged and beaten.
The police registered a case of accidental death which the family claims untrue. “The family is urging the police to thoroughly investigate the case and execute justice” said Joseph.
Balwinder is survived by his wife- Nisha Bhatti and 5 children- Abhishek (14), Anmol (11), Avinash (8), Ravi (6) and Vira (5). Apart from his immediate family, the pastor used to lovingly care for his sister and father as well.
A FIR has been lodged (FIR no:93) at the Zira Sadar Police Station and ASI Sukhwinder Pal Singh is currently handling the case.
A few years ago, Balwinder’s brother was also murdered, however, Balwinder never stopped his preaching and regularly gathered people every Sunday to pray and worship in the small compound of his home which is still mere sand and brick.
Although Pastor Balwinder was not very well to do, he had a desire to turn his home into a House of Prayer. His untimely death has left the family traumatized and uncertain as he was the only bread winner of the family.
A memorial service for Balwinder is scheduled to take place on the 5thof August 2020.
Talking to Persecution Relief, Balwinder’s sister concluded, “This incident has left us in tears, but we believe that God is Sovereign, He will watch over us.”
This is the 8th case of a religiously motivated murder that Persecution Relief has recorded in 2020 and the 3rd case in the month of July alone. This is also the second case of Christian persecution leading to murder, in the state of Punjab, the first being Pastor Sultan Masih who was Martyred on the 16th of July, 2017.
From January 2016 to June 2020, Persecution Relief has recorded 2067 cases of Hate crimes against Christians in India of which 293 cases were recorded in the first half of 2020 alone.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has downgraded India to the lowest ranking, ‘Countries of Particular Concern’(CPC) in its 2020 report. The US State Department ranked India’s persecution severity at “Tier 2” along with Iraq and Afghanistan. Over the past seven years, India has risen from No. 31 to No. 10 on Open Doors’ World Watch List, ranking just behind Iran in persecution severity.
Shibu Thomas is the founder of Persecution Relief