Death Toll rises to five in Kalamassery Blasts, India
Sally Pradeepan, mother of the 12 year old victim succumbs to her injuries

India: Jehovah’s Witnesses Death Toll Rises to Five (5)

Kerala, India – Another burn victim of the Kalamassery blasts succumbed to her injuries on Saturday night, November 12, 2023, at around 10:30 pm. Sally Pradeepan (45), was the mother of the 12 year old girl, Libina, who died two weeks ago today. Two of her sons were also injured. One remains in a critical condition in hospital. She had been on ventilator support.

Dominic Martin entered a convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses on the morning of  October 29, 2023 – the final day of a three-day convention – and planted a number of remote-controlled Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). During the opening prayer, he detonated the IEDs, injuring more than 50 persons.

A woman, later identified as Layona Paulose (55) died at the scene of the blasts. Her identity was not immediately known as she attended the event alone and her family lived abroad.

Later that day, a woman named Kumari (53) died in hospital. She suffered from 90% burns. 

Early on Monday morning October 30, Libina (12), daughter of Sally Pradeepan, died from her injuries. She had suffered from 95% burns.

A week later, Molly Joy (61) who had 80% burns, succumbed to her injuries at a private hospital on November 6.

Pradeepan brings the death toll to five.  Seventeen persons remain in hospital. The latest victim’s son remains in critical condition with serious burn injuries. Eight others are in ICU. The remaining nine are in hospital wards making good recovery.

Tracing Dominic Martin’s Steps

Dominic Martin, after committing his evil crime, checked in to a lodge and uploaded a video of a pre-recorded confession to Facebook. This has since been removed. He then drove to a police station some 17 kilometres from the blast site and handed himself in. 

Martin claimed that was associated with Jehovah’s Witnesses for about 16 years that that about 6 or 7 years ago, he began to believe the movement’s teachings to be wrong.  He claimed to have asked the Witnesses to change their teachings “again and again” but that his requests were ignored. He said he felt that he could find no other “solution” than to set off a number of explosions with “serious consequences”.

According to police and sources close to the investigation, Martin provided a detailed account of the bomb construction process. He was proficient in electronics. He watched YouTube videos to help develop triggering devices. He bought fuel from various outlets to avoid suspicion. His triggering devices were obtained from toy car remotes. Again to avoid suspicion, he bought remotes and wires from various electronic stores.  He produced receipts for the purchased materials. 

The bombs were built in his apartment the day before the blasts. After committing his crime, he went back to his flat and left the remaining remotes and wires there.

Apparently, he left behind a lucrative job in Dubai and received no support from anyone to help carry out the attack on the Jehovah’s Witnesses. He made numerous calls to his wife in an effort to prevent his mother-in-law attending the event.

Dominic Martin has declined legal aid, instead wanting to represent himself.

Expert Opinion

Ajithkumar Varma, an expert in criminology says that one common trait in all extremists is that they seek publicity. He claims that Dominic Martin was looking for publicity; that he had an agenda and picked out this particular convention to strike. “Basically, he is trying to bring his agenda to limelight.” He says that the question of why he killed innocents is “not that relevant”.  His plan was to turn against the organization and create publicity and expose them. He says, “He is obviously an extremist. But he must be seeing himself as a person carrying out a revolutionary movement. He may not be feeling guilty and think it was a corrective action… we know that he is an extremist, but it is unlikely that he thinks that way”. 

Psychiatrist S.D. Singh asks, “What kind of satisfaction did he achieve through such an activity that caused harm to others? If he is guilty or thinks that he did it impulsively, then he would seek legal help. But if he is justifying his actions, there is some underlying psychopathology which necessarily need not be insanity”, adding that why he is not remorseful may become clearer when the court examines him.

Eye-Witness Reports

Eye-witnesses said tiffin-boxes exploded under plastic chairs. Some didn’t initially react but then they saw the black smoke and smelled the burning. Some said that there was no “overpanic” and that may be the reason for fewer casualties.

An MP noted that the crowd were “extremely composed” and that “there was no anger from the victims and their families, which is quite unusual”.

One member of Jehovah’s Witnesses named Anna when interviewed by the media, made an attempt to promote the group’s software application, JW Library,  saying “Just looking at the range of languages on the App makes me feel I have a strong community”. She claims that wherever she goes in the world, Jehovah’s Witnesses will come running to help her.

Another Jehovah’s Witnesses who has been a member his whole life said that when the rules of society conflict with their beliefs, they prioritise the Bible. He continued, “We don’t force others to follow our beliefs, so what’s the problem?” He did acknowledge that the group does not accept blood transfusions. 

One man claimed it can take years to become a Jehovah’s Witness. In his case, he studied for over a decade before becoming a member. He said his wife feels the group gives satisfactory answers to her religious questions. He admitted that he had never met Dominic Martin. He did make two very notable remarks. The first: “People can repent and re-join the congregation – everyone makes mistakes, but it takes time and energy to correct those mistakes. But [Martin] did not make such an effort.” The second: “We’re a peaceful community, and we don’t blindly follow rules.” He said he did not know why Martin had been asked to leave the group.

Dominic Martin’s landlord said this about him, “We are still surprised when people say he did it. I saw the video in which he confessed. He used to talk to us in the same manner. It was his wife who showed me the video that day. She can only say that he was angry with them (Jehovah’s Witnesses). She thought at the most, he might print some handouts against them. She never thought he would do something like this.”

Spokesmen for Jehovah’s Witnesses

Thannippara Azhakappa Sreekumar, a convert from Hindu and a local congregation elder and businessman in Kerala,  said in one report that Dominic Martin “got baptized after learning the Bible for a long time.” He said that he stopped attending their meetings “after some time”. He said that Martin’s wife and her family are Jehovah’s Witnesses. He claimed that Martin never mentioned any of the issues he spoke about in his video with them.

In another report, he says, “Martin himself has told the police that he has not attended any prayer meetings of the Jehovah’s Witnesses during the last seven years. Neither he nor his parents are members of the sect. His association with the Jehovah’s Witnesses is through marriage as his mother-in-law and wife are members of the sect”.

He continued, “How is it possible for a person who has not attended even a single prayer meeting of the congregation allege that ours is an anti-national organization? The motto and objective of the JW is to mould good citizens so that we have good families and good society where all could live peacefully and happily. We teach our members to cooperate with the governments, whether it be in State or Centre.

“Our people stay away from politics, follow the law of the land, pay taxes and work in government and corporate establishments. We hold the view that religious conversions are against the Constitution of the nation. Even children born to parents belonging to Jehovah’s Witnesses have to undergo lessons in the Bible, attend the prayer meetings and follow the lifestyle prescribed by the congregation. Then only would they be considered members of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” 

He finished, “A Committee of scholars with maturity and wisdom lead the Jehovah’s Witnesses in India.”

Joshua David, who works in the Office of Public Information (OPI) at the branch office in India, spoke publicly to a news outlet that he described as “fair and objective.” In typical Jehovah’s Witnesses fashion, to claim a monopoly on accurate information about the group, he opened with, “We are very happy to give you accurate information of everything that transpired throughout this past week.”

He revealed that there are about 57 thousand Jehovah’s Witnesses in India. With a population of 1.4 Billion, that means there is one Jehovah’s Witnesses to every 24.5k persons in that country.

In response to Dominic Martin’s claim that Jehovah’s Witnesses are “anti-national”, David said, “His comments are offensive to every Jehovah’s Witness. They are misleading, loaded with falsehood. Jehovah’s Witnesses love the country wherever they live in. We love India. We love the community where we are living in.”

Alluding to Jehovah’s Witnesses’ cult-like traits – and using some terms that are unique to Jehovah’s Witnesses, David explained, “We are very organised. Worldwide we have 86 crore (8.6 million) but we get the same message. We have our weekly meetings. We call them the midweek meeting and the weekend meeting where we read and try to understand the Bible and apply the principles in our lives. We have very structured material through which we consider at our meetings. And everything is available online, public to everyone. And conventions like this are also very well organized. There are faithful men, in fact even women, who take part in different departments so that they can take care of the needs of the delegates. Most of these instructions come through these meetings that we have midweek and the weekend. But we also have the app which brings out many things from the Bible and publications. In fact, even for youngsters… Young people can make good use of their phone… These are all principles. Each individual then, decides for himself what he wants to apply, what he wants to accept and what he wants to reject. So yes, we are very well organized around the world. We follow god who is organised and everything takes place by arrangement”.

When asked about some of Jehovah’s Witnesses unconventional beliefs such as birthdays and blood transfusions, he responded, “Everything is a personal decision. While we have our publications which explain the Bible, and Bible principles, each individual carries their own personal responsibility whether he wants to follow that or not. Each one carries his own load – Galatians 6:5. Witnesses give very high regard for life. We have instructions that, even if you are riding on a bike, a pillion passenger should always wear a helmet. It’s not to be caught or to save face with the law enforcement agencies, but life is precious. So the principle is that life is precious and that is why we do things. We have a high regard for life, whether riding a scooter, riding a car, or even in the case of blood transfusions. Jehovah’s Witnesses give a high regard for life but it’s a personal decision. And we are very happy that the medical community has come up with very much transfusion alternatives. And each Witness decides according to his Bible trained conscience, which kind of medical care he will go for or not.”

On a question of whether the rejection of singing the national anthem was one of the “anti-national” activities that Dominic Martin was referring to, David said, “It is a personal responsibility of whatever one does with his or her life. As far as the national anthem is concerned, we respect the national anthem. We respect the flag. In fact, we show respect to the country by being honest citizens of India. We pay our taxes. We obey the traffic laws or any other law that is in place that show that we truly love this country. Saluting the flag is a religious decision based on the Bible. Because saluting the flag or singing the national anthem; it’s like a sacred devotion to the country. And for us, devotion belongs to our God, Jehovah. But we respect whenever the national anthem is sung, we stand respectfully wherever it is done. We respect people’s right to engage in these activities, and we expect others to respect our rights to abstain from what the Bible says we can or cannot do.”

Joshua David avoided admitting that Dominic Martin was a baptized member of Jehovah’s Witnesses instead saying, “That’s what he claims.”

Closing Comments

Dominic Martin is an extremist. He committed the most hideous crime to highlight harms of a minority religious group. And what has he achieved by killing five women? Nothing, except cutting short innocent lives. And the other burn victims, should they all survive, will have wounds that will be a daily reminder of the evil committed against them. All of the dead are women. Women have no positions of authority in Jehovah’s Witnesses. Yet it is women who ended up being Dominic Martin’s primary target.

There are better ways to highlight the harms of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and none of them involve physical violence. Every day, there are former believers highlighting the harm of mandated shunning that results from leaving the group or being expelled from it. There are victims and survivors of child abuse, and their supporters who work hard every day to highlight the group’s deplorable handing of child abuse cases within the group. There are news articles written by journalists around the world helping us to highlight these harms. None of these efforts involve physically harming Jehovah’s Witnesses.

What Dominic Martin did is not only despicable, it is also counter-productive. It does nothing to highlight the harms of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Instead, it highlights the persecution that Jehovah’s Witnesses face every day for holding their beliefs.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of those who have died, and we wish the surviving victims a speedy recovery.