South Asia

Punjab pastor shot by motorcyclists in India

A pastor of an independent Church in Punjab was shot dead by two unidentified men riding a motor cycle on the night of 15 July 2017.

Pastor Sultan Masih with his wife Sarabjit

Pastor Sultan Masih, 53, was shot at by two men riding a motorcycle around 8:30 at night in front of his church on a busy street.

Masih was the Pastor of the Temple of God Church located at Salem Tabri and has lived in that locality for the past 30 years.

The incident was captured by the CCTV camera mounted outside Masih’s Church. The footage clearly shows regular traffic on the road and Masih standing and talking on his mobile phone. Suddenly two men on a motorcycle are seen passing Masih and the pillion rider is seen shooting him at point blank range.

The motorcycle slowed down, stopped for few seconds, shot the pastor and then sped again. The killer fired four gun-shots, one hitting Masih’s chest, one on his neck and one hit on his face, near the ear. The footage further shows the pillion rider firing a fourth shot in the air as the attackers drive down a little further. He then raises both his arms in the air gesturing ‘success and victory’.

Masih was immediately rushed to the Dayanand Medical College and Hospital, where the doctors declared him dead.

The Rev Isaac Dutta, Assistant Secretary of the  Evangelical Fellowship of India North West region, and the Convener of Council of Ludhiana Churches (CLC) told Global Christian News that Masih’s death had left the entire Christian Community of Punjab in a state of shock, “Such a thing has never happened in Punjab. We have lived cordially with all the communities and such an act can really spoil the atmosphere of the state,” he declared.

Christians protesting in the rally

Some Christians however, believe that Masih’s killing might also be a hate crime. For the past two months the state of Punjab has seen a lot of propaganda against the Church in general, by members of the Buddha Dal, a Nihang Sikh sect.

A member of the Buddha Dal has reportedly uploaded several anti-Christian videos on social media against pastors and church leaders during the past months. It is also reported that many pastors have been threatened as a result of the propaganda. Masih too had reportedly received threats.

After the killing of Masih the same member of Buddha Dal released a video denying any involvement in the killing and conveying his condolence to the family.

Masih’s elder son Alisha, 26, in an interview with Global Christian News denied knowledge of any threats to his father. He said: “Our Church was established in 1989 and in the 30 years of my father’s Christian ministry, we have had a very cordial relationship with all the other faith communities. My dad did not have enemies nor any tussle with anybody.”

After the horrific killing, there were wide-spread protests in various parts of Punjab by the Christian community. “The same night from

Christians protesting

11pm to 1am. the highway was blocked by the Christians of that area,” said Dutta.

The protest by the Christian community continued on Sunday (16 July) as crowds demanded the arrest of Masih’s killers.

Churches across denominations from Ferozepur, Batala, Gurdaspur, Amritsar, Jalandhar and other cities came together and joined the protest. The Chief Minister of Punjab, Capt. Amarinder Singh on Sunday announced an ex-gratia of Rupees 5 lakh (5950 GBP) for the widow and a government job in the police department for the son of Pastor Sultan Masih.

The CM also called up the family of Masih to convey his condolences over the tragedy and promised strong action against the culprits.

Masih’s funeral which was scheduled for Monday morning was delayed due to heavy rainfall and later conducted at 4:30 in the evening.

Dutta highlighted that Masih’s Church is the largest Church in that particular area with 250 regular worshippers.

Masih is survived by his widow, Sarabjit, two sons – Alisha (26), Anoop (19) and a daughter who is married.