Indian Christians block road demanding investigation on death of pastor

A protester holds a placard during a rally by hundreds of Christians against recent attacks on churches nationwide, in Mumbai February 9, 2015. | Reuters/Danish Siddiqui

Christians have blocked a busy road in India's Tamil Nadu state on Monday, demanding an impartial investigation on the death of a pastor who was found hanging inside his home.

The protesters are suspecting foul play on the death of Pastor Gideon Periyaswarny, 43, who led an independent church in Adayachery village in Kanchipuram district.

The pastor was found hanging from a rope on Jan. 20 after he reportedly complained to the police of harassment from high-caste Hindus in his area.

Police inspector Amal Raj said that "prima facie it appears to be a case of suicide but we are looking at all possible angles."

Church members who came to clean his one-room house near the church said that his door was bolted from the outside, and when they opened it, they saw his body hanging. They further noted that the pastor's knees were bent to the floor and that his body appeared to be hanging abnormally.

When the knot was released, the police reportedly found a cut under his throat with a noticeable clot.

Pastor Immanuel Prabhakaran, who worked with Periyaswarny, said that the high-caste Vanniyar group had been opposing the deceased pastor's mission activities involving lower-caste people.

"Not a single Sunday service in the past six months passed off peacefully without disturbance," Prabhakaran said, according to UCA News.

Lawyer Gini Immanuel, who assisted Periyaswamy when he filed his complaints, said that the pastor had faced a series of problems, including the demolition of the church's roof and the disconnection of its water supply.

Christians have staged a demonstration on a road in front of Chengalpattu government hospital, where Periyasamy's body is awaiting postmortem to determine the cause of death.

The protesters are urging the police to arrest four suspects, including village leaders, who have been subjects of the pastor's complaints.

The Christians are also demanding that a private doctor join the team of medical experts conducting the postmortem and they also want the procedure to be videotaped in the presence of a judicial magistrate.

Rev. Joel Sekar of the Synod of Pentecostal Churches said that the demonstrations will not cease until arrests are made, adding that the protesters are only seeking ways to ensure a fair postmortem and guarantee an impartial investigation.

Amos Paul, a friend of Periyasamy, surmised that the authorities have been reluctant to arrest the suspects for fear of a sectarian backlash.

"They say if the four are arrested, 10,000 will come out on the streets and there will be communal violence," Paul said.