The Kerala blast: Who are Jehovah's witnesses and who's Dominic Martin, the man who claimed the responsibility?

The state of Kerala is reeling under an unprecedented attack where blasts have killed three people and injured dozens. The incident has drawn a sharp attention from across the country and has sparked a probe from central agencies including the National Investigation Agency (NIA). It also has brought a pile of condemnations from the state and national leaders. 

During the morning hours of Sunday- October 29, multiple blasts have rocked the Zamra International Conventional Centre in Kalamassery, Kochi and at the time of blasts, hundreds of followers of Jehovah's Witnesses - a Christian religious group - were present at the conventional centre as they were attending the concluding day of their three-day-long prayer meeting. The blasts have triggered chaos around the spot and caused several damages. 

Preliminary investigations revealed that the blasts at the conventional centre were caused by the IED (Improvised Explosive Device). Hours after the blasts, on Sunday afternoon, 48-year-old Dominic Martin had released a Facebook post in which he claimed responsibility for the blasts and he said that he had placed explosives at the prayer meeting as the Christian sect had refused to change its course despite he made multiple requests. 

Speaking in a soft-tone, Martin said, "You all may have taken note of something that happened today. There was a bomb blast at a Jehovah's Witnesses convention. I don't know what exactly happened, but I know that it happened for sure and I take full responsibility for that. I executed the bomb blast there." He further alleged that the followers of Jehovah's Witnesses are anti-nationals. After releasing the video, he went on to surrender before the Kodakara police station in Thrissur. 

The police said that they have found incriminating evidence, including the visuals of remote control allegedly used to detonate bomb, from the suspect's mobile phone. The officials also said that Martin had learned techniques of making bomb from YouTube videos. A case has been booked against Dominic Martin under sections 302 - murder and 307 - attempt to murder of the IPC as well as under the provisions of the Explosives Act and under stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). 

Martin was taken to Aluva for detailed investigation and his residence was also searched by the police. Kerala's Additional Director-General of Police (ADGP) Law and Order, Ajith Kumar said, "We are verifying it. We are looking into all aspects of this case. The blast took place in the central part of the hall." So far, three people have been killed in the blasts and one of the victims has been identified as 53-year-old Kumari, a native of Thodupuzha in Idukki. 

Kerala Health Minister Veena George said that 52 people have been injured and of those 52, 30 were admitted in various hospitals and of them 18 are in the ICUs. The minister further said that of those 18 who are in the ICUs, six - including a 12-year-old child are in critical condition and three of them had suffered 90 per cent of burns. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan called the incident unfortunate and said that every culprit involved in the bombings will be punished. 

Who are Jehovah's Witnesses? 

Originiated in the 19th century, Jehovah's Witnesses group came into existence when a small community of Bible students living near Pittsburgh in the US State of Pennsylvania began a new kind of examination of the Bible and the origins of Christian doctrine, creed, and tradition. They were influenced by teachings of a Bible study group's founder, Charles Taze Russell, whose ideas were against the core beliefs of traditional Christian denominations. 

In 1884, Russell had established the Water Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania which is now headquartered in Warwick, New York, which is serving as the central body of the Jehovah's Witnesses Organisation. The Jehovah's Winesses is led by a governing body, which establishes all doctrines based on its interpretations of the Bible. It teaches that the destruction of the present world system at Armageddon is imminent and the establishment of God's kingdom over earth is the only solution to all of humanity's problems. 

Folllowing Russell's death in 1916, Joseph Franklin Rutherford had assumed the presidency of the Water Tower Society. Though encountering resistance and internal divisions, he implemented substantial organizational reforms and rebranded its adherents as Jehovah's Witnesses, placing a strong emphasis on the authority of Jehovah. The name Jehovah's Witnesses was officially adopted in 1931 and they call themselves Christians, citing that they follow closely the teachings and behaviours of Jesus Christ. 

However, they consider themselves separate from groups that are traditionally considered Christian. Many Christian denominations also do not identify Jehovah's Witnesses as Christians as the latter reject the ideas of Christian's 'Holy Trinity'. Jehovah's Witnesses believes in Jesus as son of God and Jehovah as God. They won't have priests and though they follow a literal interpretation of the Bible, they do not approve of traditional priesthood as it is practised in some of the other Christian groups. 

Most of the Christian groups claim that Jehovah's Witnesses are aligned closer to the Jewish faith. The group came under severe persecution under the Nazis in Germany along with the Jews. The followers of Jehovah's Witnesses don't join national armies as soldiers as they want to adhere to a neutral stand when it comes to wars between countries, they do not seek public offices or join politics, do not accept blood transfusion, and refuse to follow symbols of nationalism including national flags and national anthems. 

Jehovah's Witnesses is also known for its worldwide practice of door-to-door evangelism. India has about 60,000 followers of Jehovah's Witnesses and about 950 congregations and Kerala has a significant amount of followers. In 1985, three children belonging to a family of Jehovah's Witnesses refused to sing the National Anthem in Kerala after which they were expelled from the school. The Supreme Court heard the case and pronounced a verdict that allowed the children to be readmitted to the school. In its verdict, the apex court said, "Even though the religion may appear strange or even bizarre to us, but the sincerity of their beliefs is beyond question." 

Who is Dominic Martin? 

Martin's explosive remarks of claiming responsibility for the bombings have also brought to light that he is a disenchanted member of Jehovah's Witnesses. According to The News Minute, Martin was a spoken English teacher and he is a resident of Thammanam in Ernakulam. During the night hours of Saturday - October 28, Martin told his wife Mini that he would leave home early the next day to meet his friend. Mini was unaware that her husband is about to become the suspect of one of the deadliest bomb attacks in Kerala. 

Martin left the home at around 5.30 am on Sunday - October 29 and hours later, he was on a national headlines. Martin and his family - a wife, a son, and a daughter were living on a second floor of a rented house in Thammanam and while his son is to be studying in the UK, his daughter is employed in Kochi's Infopark. Martin had been living in Dubai and he returned to Kerala two months ago after his daugther got affected with dengue. 

Martin's house owner said that Martin was teaching spoken English course in Ernakulam and during the pandemic, he lost his job and went to Dubai. He worked in Dubai for the past two years and reurned home two months ago. It has been reported that Martin's wife Mini had informed the house owner and his family that Martin had claimed responsibility of the bombings through a video he posted on social media. 

Notably, the Jehovah's Witnesses in Kerala said that they have no member named Dominic Martin. Many followers said that Martin had appeared at prayer meetings a few years ago. In Kerala, Jehovah's Witnesses have 17,000 members divided across 200 congregations. Sreekumar, the PRO of Jehovah's Witnesses said, "We are still not sure which congregation he (Martin) belonged to. We have asked our members. He did come to meetings but no one remembers him having a fight or disagreement with others."