Jehovah’s Witnesses | Waiting for ‘God’s kingdom’ 

The annual three-day convention of the small Christian sect, held in Kochi, Kerala, was hit by explosions on October 29 in which at least three persons were killed

Updated - November 05, 2023 09:25 am IST

Published - November 05, 2023 05:33 am IST

People sit outside the Zamra International Convention and Exhibition Centre after being evacuated from the centre following multiple blasts during a religious gathering of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Christian group, in Kochi on October 29, 2023.

People sit outside the Zamra International Convention and Exhibition Centre after being evacuated from the centre following multiple blasts during a religious gathering of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Christian group, in Kochi on October 29, 2023. | Photo Credit: Reuters

On a sleepy Sunday morning on October 29, Kerala woke up to the devastating multiple explosions at the annual three-day regional convention organised by the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the town of Kalamasssery, Kochi. Three persons, including a 12-year-old child, were killed and over 50 injured in the blast. Martin V.D., a 57-year-old resident of Thammanam in Kochi city, surrendered before the Kerala Police a few hours later after he claimed responsibility for the act. The accused, who described himself as a ‘non-serious’ member of the group for nearly 16 years, said he wanted to teach the sect a lesson as it was “anti-national”. He alleged that the “teachings” of the Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation “degraded members of other beliefs”.

The blasts brought the spotlight on the millenarian Christian group, which does not believe in the Christian Trinity but believes in Jesus as son of God and Jehovah as God. Its roots lay in the 19th century Adventist movement in the U.S. The modern-day organisation was an offshoot of the International Bible Students’ Association founded in Pittsburgh by Charles Taze Russell, a Unitarian pastor, in 1872. However, differences within the Bible study group after his death resulted in the formation of several groups, including the Witnesses, in the early 1930s.

The members of the group say they do their best to “imitate” Jesus Christ and is proud to be called Christians. They worship the creator, “whose name is Jehovah” and recognise the Bible as “God’s inspired message to humans”. However, they do not venerate the cross or any other images. According to the official website of the sect, they are known as Jehovah’s Witnesses as they “witness, or talk, about Jehovah God and his Kingdom”. The sect has come under the lens of several governments for their refusal to abide by certain laws.

Though the group say it respected governments and their national symbols, it stayed away from participating in such ceremonies on biblical grounds. They do not accept blood transfusions stating that “both the Old and New Testaments clearly command us to abstain from blood”. The Witnesses believe that Armageddon is imminent and early establishment of God’s kingdom will prevail soon.

Evangelical work

Various Christian denominations do not consider them as a Christian sect while mostly terming them a “cult” aligned closer to the Jewish faith. The group does not approve of traditional priesthood as practised in some of the other Christian groups. They do not celebrate Christmas because of its “pagan origins”. They are best known for their door-to-door evangelical work and they have no political affiliations. The Jehovah’s Witnesses had faced persecution under the Nazis in Germany and in countries such as Russia and France.

The group’s practice of abstaining from singing the National Anthem had its reverberations in Kerala when the management of a school in Kidangoor, Kottayam district expelled three children on July 26, 1986 on the ground that they refused to recite the National Anthem during the morning assemblies. The late V.J. Immanuel, their father and a retired college teacher, who was an ardent preacher of the sect, challenged the decision before the Supreme Court, which found that their expulsion was in violation Articles 19 and 25 of the Constitution and held that “no provisions of law in the country expressly obligates individuals to sing the national anthem”. In India, Jehovah’s Witnesses has been present since 1905. Though it established an office in 1926 in Mumbai, the legal registration was obtained only in 1978.

The group, which has its headquarters in Warwick, New York, says it has around 8.6 million followers worldwide. In India, there are over 57,000 members, while the headcount of followers in Kerala is around 15,000. It had hit the headlines in March this year after a 35-year-old suspect, believed to be a former member, opened fire at a Jehovah’s centre in Hamburg, Germany killing seven people. The members say they do not engage in forcible conversion as every individual has the right to accept their message or reject it. They have left it to the public to decide on what they called allegations by persons, who have no remorse in killing innocent people over their teachings and practices.

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