On 18 February, Pastor Shajin from Devasabai church led a team of seven pastors from Rameswaram town to Sathankulam, where they were met by Pastor Lazar Barnabas and embarked on a four-day ministry distributing Christian literature. At approximately 9am on 21 February, the men were confronted by a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) named Ponniah who seized their tracts and accused them of converting people by force.
Ponniah informed the local police, who arrived at the scene of the incident and escorted the pastors to the police station. Local sources report that once in the police station, police officers did not question the pastors about their activities but instead proceeded to assault the group, one of whom was handicapped.
Sources close to Pastor Barnabas report that he was severely beaten with a ‘lathi’ (bamboo baton) by Sub Inspector Raghu Ganesh while other police officers looked on, and sustained injuries to his back and legs.
On the same day, Ponniah, accompanied by members of a local Hindu ‘Munani’ (Radical nationalist) group, registered a First Information Report (FIR) against the nine Christians for attempting to convert him by force. The Christians were held in custody until 5:30pm and only released after local human rights activists intervened. CSW sources report that an FIR has been registered against the police. Pastor Barnabas, who had initially received medical attention in a government hospital for his injuries following the assault, is currently receiving treatment in a private hospital.