The 29th of October 2023 marked a grim day for the state of Kerala, as a bomb blast shattered the peace of Kalamassery in the Ernakulam District during a ‘Jehovah’s Witness’ Convention, leaving three dead and dozens injured. The incident has left the entire state in shock, with political leaders and the community condemning the attack. In this article, we’ll delve into the details of the incident, the aftermath, and the multiple angles that have emerged.

The Tragic Event

On the 29th of October 2023,  a bomb blast took place in Kalamassery in the Ernakulam District of Kerala at 9:30 AM. The bomb was ticked off during the ‘Jehovah’s Witness’ Convention for which over 2,500 people had gathered. It was a three-day prayer meeting that was set to conclude on Sunday. According to the witnesses, multiple explosions took place that claimed the lives of three people- Leyona Paulose (55), Kumari Pushpan (53) and a 12-year-old girl Libna Pradeepan. The investigation into the Bomb Blast is still ongoing, with authorities working tirelessly to identify the perpetrators behind the attack.

Government Responses

Kerala Health Minister Veena George informed that 52 people were admitted to different hospitals, out of which 17 people were battling burn injuries with 12 of them in ICU. In the aftermath of the explosion, Health Minister Veena George ordered all health workers on leave to return immediately and directed the Directors of the Health Department and Medical Education Department to provide the best treatment for those injured in the explosion. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan confirmed the causality figures and stressed on the seriousness of the blasts. On Monday, a day after the multiple explosions took place, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan visited the site to take stock of the situation. He was accompanied by Congress MP Hibi Eden, Ministers P Rajeev, Veena George and Collector N.S.K. Umesh. An all-party meeting chaired by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan was held in Thiruvananthapuram which unanimously resolved to urge people not to indulge in baseless accusations, speculative campaigns, and rumour-mongering in the wake of the blasts, according to the statement issued by the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO).

Investigation Findings and Suspect

The police started investigating into the bomb blast and it took a startling turn by Sunday afternoon, when a former member of the evangelist group Jehovah’s Witnesses claimed responsibility for the attack. It seemed that one aspect of the police probe had pivoted towards the inner workings of the almost cult-like religious organization with a significant presence in Kerala. At the same time, the police were pursuing other trails, which included a car that suspiciously left the locality moments before the explosion and radical organizations inimical to international evangelical organizations that back Israel’s political line against Palestine. 

Suspect- Dominic Martin and His Motives

The Kerala Police on Sunday confirmed that Dominic Martin who was a native of Kadavanthara planted the bomb which set off in the morning at the convention centre in Kalamaserry. He claimed responsibility for the blasts and surrendered to the police in Thrissur. The Police also found visuals of the remote control used to detonate the IED (Improvised Explosive Device) on Dominic’s phone. Dominic Martin was a zealous member of the Jehovah’s Witness group itself for 16 years. However, he got disenchanted in 2017 with the group’s teachings. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are a group of Christians who do not identify as protestants. They usually describe themselves as different from the other denominations in Christianity. The Jehovah Witness Convention is an annual gathering wherein larger assemblies called “Regional Conventions” take place which are usually for three days long, Friday-Sunday. The conventions usually consist of Bible-based talks, dramatizations and videos of their preaching work. 

Confession of the Suspect

Dominic Martin confessed to the crime and his motivation for the same on Facebook Live, which he posted before surrendering at Kodakara police station. According to the video, Dominic said that despite multiple requests to the Christian denomination to change its ways which promote hatred, they refused to do so. He claimed that the group propagated anti-national sentiment and persuaded its followers not to enlist in the army or take up any government employment. He also alleged that the group belittled the country as a whole and discouraged its people from having meals with people who were not part of the Jehovah’s Witness group. He had brought up this matter to the Jehovah’s Witnesses leadership but of no use. Their lack of interest led him to take this extreme step to bring to the forefront the group’s anti-national indoctrination which is mainly targeted at school children. Hence, he decided to plant a bomb at the convention. He also requested the media not to reveal the bomb-making process that could put the State’s security into “wrong hands”. The Kerala Police has booked Dominic Martin under the UAPA, among other grave charges. 

Response from Jehovah’s Witnesses

K. Sreekumar who is the Jehovah’s Witnesses spokesperson, spoke to the television journalists in Ernakulam and confirmed that the person who surrendered at Kodakara was a former member of the prayer group. He also clarified that the organization promoted peace and tranquillity and discouraged violence. Mr. Sreekumar also said that he was incompetent to comment on whether the accused had any protests with his former prayer group. The police said that the suspect arrived on a motorbike at the Kodakara station and patiently waited for his turn to meet the station house office with scores of other petitioners. Additional Director General of Police, Law and Order, M.R. Ajith Kumar and other senior officers questioned the accused at the Thrissur police academy guest house.

Immediate Reactions from the Political Leaders

Political leaders across parties condemned the blast, even as the opposition, particularly the BJP, attacked the Pinarayi Vijayan-led government on the “worsening” law and order situation. Kerala governor Arif Mohammad Khan said that this incident was unacceptable in a democracy and a rule-of-law society. Rahul Gandhi in a post on X on October 29 condemned the incident and called it “very disturbing”. Union Home Minister Amit Shah had a telephone conversation with Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan following the incident. He also instructed the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the National Security Guard (NSG)- the two central agencies that specialize in anti-terror investigation and operations respectively  to initiate an inquiry into the blast

Aftermath of Explosion

The Kalamassery Bomb Blast has raised several socio-political implications for the community and the region as a whole. It has exposed fault lines within society and highlighted underlying tensions that need to be addressed. Experts warn that if these issues are not resolved soon, they could lead to further violence and instability in the region. It is our hope that this incident will lead to a better understanding of such events and contribute to promoting peace and stability in communities.