VOICE OF THE PERSECUTED

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Christians in Northern India Forced to Stop Worship, Pastor Says

India (Morning Star News) – Harassment of Christians by hard-line Hindus in northern India ended in police coercing a pastor to agree to stop holding worship in his home after an officer threatened to make false charges against his son, he said.

The pastor said the coercion by police in Uttar Pradesh state came after his son, 19-year-old Pawan Kumar, on Aug. 25 asked intoxicated Hindus to stop yelling disparaging remarks about Christianity outside their home in Tarkulwa village, Maharajganj District.

“The officers at Shyam Deurwa police station joined hands with the assailants and forced us to sign a document vowing that we would never conduct prayers in our home, and that we would not share gospel with anyone,” the house-church leader, identified only as Pastor Sugriv, told Morning Star News. “I was forced to sign it. What kind of justice is this?”

On the night of the triggering incident, the group of Hindus were on the verge of attacking but in their drunken state ended up fighting among themselves, he said. He took his son back inside and locked the door to the Hindus’ taunts of, “Hallelujah, Hallelujah,” which continued into the night, Pastor Sugriv said.

The next morning he informed the Tarkulwa village president about the harassment, and the official summoned the Hindus to his office and warned them to make no further disturbances, he said. The Hindus returned that night (Aug. 26), however, again using obscenities as they disparaged Christianity, the pastor said.

“We had no other option but to inform the police,” Pastor Sugriv said. “It is not safe for us to have these drunkards come by whenever they want and start picking fights with us, shouting at the top of their lungs. We have women in our house, and it was beyond what we could tolerate.”

Two police officers came to their home on Aug. 29 and asked Pastor Sugriv’s son to show them where the accused lived, he said.

“We thought they came to take action against them for our safety and allowed our son to go with them to show their homes,” he said. “We had waited very long for our child to return, and someone passing by informed us that police had taken him into custody.”

Arriving at the Shyam Deurwa police station, he found his son and one of the Hindus, who had falsely accused Kumar of sexually harassing young women in the village. Police were planning to charge him with sexual harassment, the pastor said.

At length Pastor Sugriv pleaded for them to release him, reminded them of the complaint he had already filed and called the Uttar Pradesh team of legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom India. ADF personnel brought the matter to higher police officials.

The station house officer was away on duty at a religious procession but assured Pastor Sugrive that he would release his son after returning, the pastor said. When the station house officer returned to the Shyam Deurwa police station at about 11 p.m., however, Pastor Sugriv said the chief spoke harshly to him.

“You can get lawyers and higher police officials to call me from Delhi, Bombay and from across the country – I’m not afraid of anyone,” he shouted, according to the pastor. “I will frame your son in such a case that he will be behind the bars for many, many years. Go do whatever you want. I will not let him go.”

Pastor Sugriv said he had never left Kumar alone even at his grandparents’ home, much less in a jail cell.

“It was not easy for me,” he said. “He speaks very softly and never speaks ill of anyone. When he saw the drunkards mocking and laughing, he could not take it. He went up and asked them what was wrong. That was the only offense committed by him.”

The station house officer was adamant that he would not be released, he said.

“I entrusted my son to my Lord’s hands and left the police station that midnight after the officer retired from his duties,” Pastor Sugriv said. “God gave me the strength at that moment to be prepared for the worst.”

That night after midnight, a spokesperson at the Maharajganj District Police told Morning Star News that the in-charge inspector of Shyam Deurwa police station had been directed to take necessary action, but Kumar was not released.

“It affected him psychologically, he is of tender age,” Pastor Sugriv told Morning Star News. “Even the next day [Aug. 30], the officer refused to release him, but the brothers in ADF’s Uttar Pradesh team did not give up. Finally, in the evening, he was released without any charges.”

As a condition for his son’s release, the officers forced Pastor Sugriv to sign a document vowing that they would never practice their faith in their home or talk about Christ with anyone, he said.

The pastor told Morning Star News he was shocked at the demand, saying, “Don’t we have the freedom to pray even within the four walls of our home?”

Shyam Deurwa Police Inspector Vijay Singh denied that the document Pastor Sugriv signed violated India’s religious freedoms, saying it prohibited only fraudulent conversion.

“Villagers have been opposing them since they have been propagating Christianity in the area, so I had only taken their signatures on a document vowing that they will not forcefully convert or allure anyone to convert,” Singh told Morning Star News.

Singh also denied that police took Kumar into custody that night or the next day or threatened to file false charges against him.

The spread of the novel coronavirus among inmates makes incarceration especially dangerous. ADF India’s representative in Uttar Pradesh told Morning Star News that in this case and another in Azamgarh District, “we had to ensure that the victims do not get framed in false allegations, since arrest or detention during this time can be risky for their health as well.”

“But often the officers are adamant and refuse to take action against the assailants,” he said. “There have also been cases where the victims had to pay penalties of 1,000 rupees [US$13.50], as there is a threat that the police could falsely book them for violating the lockdown instead of taking action against the assailants.”

Beatings amid COVID-19

In the case in Azamgarh District, Hindu extremist beatings in Dasmada village in early July that sent a Christian for hospital treatment have caused a house church to stop meeting for worship.

“We are all scattered now and only praying that Lord will allow us to resume the services in Dasmada,” 20-year-old pastor Vikas Gupta told Morning Star News.

He was leading a small group of Christians in worship in compliance with measures to control the spread of the coronavirus on July 1 when a mob of around 15 upper-caste Hindu villagers surrounded the place chanting slogans and threatening to kill the Christians, he said.

“They warned that if I am seen again in the village, they would hack me to death,” Pastor Gupta told Morning Star News. “We had tried to speak peacefully with them, but they were on fire.”

As they had issued threats since the founding of a house church there three years before, the pastor was used to such opposition, he said.

“But to our shock, they returned at around 5 p.m., around 30 this time, and started beating me and three other brothers present in the premises of the home church,” he said. “One of us was severely injured and had to be immediately rushed to the hospital.”

The mob also damaged parked vehicles, the church roof and other property, he said.

On July 6 they returned, saying their relatives had become Christians and were refusing to eat food offered to Hindu gods and goddesses, Pastor Gupta said.

“They accused us, saying we had been training the people who come to church to go against their Hindu relatives, and that because we had been propagating a foreign faith in the village we don’t deserve to live,” he told Morning Star News. “They kept punching us on the back and striking our heads as they took us to a local Hindu temple and forced us to vow that we will not preach about a foreign God.”

The Christians told them repeatedly that they had not trained anyone to oppose them but only gathered at the home to worship and pray, but they ignored them, he said.

With the help of ADF India, on July 7 they filed a police report about the attacks, he said.

Pastor Gupta took refuge at a Christian’s home in a nearby village, and the rest of the members and pastors of the church fled to another community – only to be attacked there at 10 p.m. by about 100 radical Hindus, he said.

“They fled from there to save themselves,” Pastor Gupta said, adding that for the past two months, house-church leaders have sought refuge in neighboring towns.

ADF India’s representative in Uttar Pradesh stated that they have guided persecuted Christians on how to file complaints online amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The harassment of Christians continues even through the lockdown,” he said.

India is ranked 10th on the Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position has been worse each year since Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.

Young Mother Is Fifth Christian Killed in India in Two Months

Jharkhand state, India. (Filpro)

(Morning Star News) – A 26-year-old mother became the fifth Christian in two months to be killed in India last week when she refused to hand over her daughter to be raped by Hindus who had assaulted the girl and other Christian minors, sources said.

Two masked Hindus slit the throat of Sunita Devi (name changed for security reasons) in Regadi village, in Jharkhand state’s Khunti District, when she came out her door at 1 a.m. and refused their demand for her young daughter, according to the sources.

“The two suspects had raped Devi’s minor daughter three times in the past besides three other Christian juvenile girls, and all four of the minor girls belong to my church,” pastor Jaymasih Nag of Grace Family Ministry (Anugrah Pariwaar Seva) told Morning Star News.

Devi’s daughter told police the assailants had previously called Devi by phone with demands that she hand over her daughter to be sexually abused, according to a police report. That night her mother had refused to answer her cell phone when the assailants called, according to the daughter.

At about 1 a.m. Devi noticed two men at the window of the room where she had been sleeping with her children and decided to get up and send them away, Pastor Nag said, based on what the minor girl had told him.

“Unaware of their intentions, Devi with the help of her cell phone torch, stepped out of the house to shoo the men away,” he said. “Devi’s daughter followed her mother. Before long, the men attacked Devi and she fell on the ground dead. On seeing her mother fall on the ground, the minor girl quickly ran inside the house and latched the door from inside.”

The girl thought there could be more men at a distance, but because of darkness she could see only two of them with their faces covered, he said. According to police, after the assailants killed Devi, they dragged her body into a nearby jungle, put her corpse into a sack and threw it into a river about two miles away. Police found her body at 2 p.m. and sent it for autopsy.

Pastor Nag saw her corpse and said her throat was completely slit.

As her husband works in Odisha state to provide for the family, Devi had lived alone with their two sons and two daughters. She had kept quiet about the torment her family was going through and was dealing with the rapists herself, thinking they would not go to the extent of killing her, Pastor Nag said.

Her husband and the Christian parents of another rape victim went to police only after the killing of Devi, sources said. On the basis of statements from the two girls, officers at the Khunti police station registered a First Information Report and arrested two suspects, station in-charge Jaideep Toppo said.

“At the complaint of the two minor girls, we arrested two suspects, and they have confessed to their crime of raping Devi’s daughter three times and the other girl once,” Toppo told Morning Star News.

Asked if the suspects killed Devi, Toppo said only, “The two men are arrested for rape and not killing.”

Pastor Nag pastors his church in nearby Saridkel. Devi and her family began attending his church six years ago. Hers is one of eight Christian homes in her village of 25 families.

Religious Motive

The two men arrested are Hindus who live in Saridkel village, where Pastor Nag has led regular worship services for the past 12 years, less than a mile from Regadi.

Pastor Nag said that girls from Christian homes are intentionally targeted by Hindus who influence followers of tribal Sarna religion, trying to introduce Hindu gods into their rituals and uniting with them against Christians.

“Why are all their targets Christian girls?” he said. “Though the opposition might not be visible outwardly, there is constant threat to believers in various forms.”

Other area Christian leaders also said the rapes and the killing were clear cases of persecution.

“Christians are soft targets, and the underlying factor of such incidents are always because of their faith,” a Christian leader from Ranchi, Sandeep Oraon, told Morning Star News. “This belt of Jharkhand has been witnessing rising persecution, and it is very real for the Christians who are living it every day.”

Asked if the assaults against four Christian girls and Devi pointed to a targeting of Christians, Station in-charge Toppo told Morning Star News, “You are thinking too much.”

Fear of Reporting Rape

Pastor Nag noted the likelihood that there were more than two rapists.

“We are yet not sure if the rapists are only two – there could be more than two involved in the crime,” he said. “We are not sure if the rapists have targeted just four Christian girls and not more.”

In a culture that shames rape victims and facing threats from the assailants, the victims did not quickly reveal the crimes. After Devi’s husband and the other rape victim’s family took the bold step of approaching police, two more families in his church, residents of Saridkel, informed Pastor Nag that their minor daughters also had been victims of the two men, Pastor Nag told Morning Star News.

“I am shocked that neither Devi nor the other three families ever spoke to me about the traumatic experience they and their children had been going through,” he said. “They fear the adverse consequences their families will have to face for speaking out. Devi probably was afraid to speak out, knowing well the consequences she and her daughter would have to face, and thus she did not approach the police.”

The rapes and killing have terrified Christians in the two villages and surrounding areas, he said.

Christians begin facing opposition from Hindu and Sarna tribal religion villagers from the moment they put their faith in Christ, Nag said. Opposition also drove him from Saridkel for many years, forcing him to settle in a nearby city, he said. Extremists threatened to damage his church building, he said, and only in January did he dare return to his native Saridkel.

Political Pressure

A well-placed source told Morning Star News that there is immense political pressure in this case.

“Initially the police had arrested four suspects, but they let the other two go after some financial ‘give-and-take,’” the source said.

On Saturday (July 25) the arrested men were taken to court to record their statements, and a member of the Legislative Assembly belonging to the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party accompanied them in support, the source said.

Station in-charge Toppo said he was not aware of any confession to homicide.

Though the autopsy was performed the same day the body was discovered, July 20, Toppo said he was still awaiting the autopsy report.

“The weapon used for killing is not clear yet; wounds on the deceased’s neck and back were visible,” he told Morning Star News. “The rest will be clear in the report.”

Pastor Nag said he found police proceedings were “slow” and “ignoring the obvious.”

“Though it is obvious that these men brutally murdered Devi after she refused to give her daughter to them, police are still slow in taking action on the ‘killing’ front,” he told Morning Star News.

Asked about this allegation, Toppo reiterated, “Investigations are underway, and nothing can be said until the investigation is complete.”

Rapes

Devi was laid to rest on her own farmland on Tuesday (July 21). She is survived by her husband and four children, ages 2 to 13.

On June 28 she had sent her daughter to buy some vegetables at a nearby market. The girl went with a neighbor friend, and on their way the two suspects abducted them and took them to a secluded place, where they locked them in a room, sources said.

The two girls were kept in the room, which was locked from outside, with men taking turns to guard it until 9 p.m.

“These men entered the room at 9 in the night and raped both the girls,” Pastor Nag said. “This was the third time that Devi’s daughter was being raped and first time when her friend became their victim.”

The families of the girls searched for them throughout the night. The girls were released the next morning and informed their parents upon reaching their homes.

Devi’s daughter told her the rapists threatened severe harm if they told anybody about the assault, the pastor said.

“It was already traumatizing for Devi and her daughter that just like previous three times, the minor girl could be abducted from anywhere, anytime and dragged to a secluded place to be raped again and again,” Pastor Nag told Morning Star News. “It was since then that Devi started to receive constant phone calls from these men demanding for her daughter to be given to them for their sexual pleasure.”

Informed of the previous rapes, Toppo expressed surprise and told Morning Star News that the complainants had not reported the prior two rapes, and that police would investigate when they do so.

Devi’s husband has taken his four children out of the village, and they are living in an undisclosed location. He has received constant phone calls from the suspects’ friends and supporters pressuring him to withdraw the charges, Pastor Nag said.

“There are threats to his and his children’s lives,” the pastor said.

Including the death under mysterious circumstances of a Christian woman in Chhattisgarh state the last week of May, Devi’s death is the fifth religiously motivated killing of a Christian in India in two months. On July 10 in Maharashtra state, Maoists killed pastor Munshi Devu Tado in Bhatpar village, Gadchiroli District.

In Bari village, Jharkhand state, followers of tribal religion on June 7 abducted and killed Kande Munda. On the night of June 4 in Odisha state, followers of tribal religion abducted 16-year-old Sambaru Madkami for his faith before stabbing and stoning him to death.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom on April 28 urged the U.S. State Department to add India as a “Country of Particular Concern” to its list of nations with poor records of protecting religious freedom.

India is ranked 10th on Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position has worsened since Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.

Christian Mother of Four in India Was Persecuted before Her Death

Site where body of Bajjo Bai Mandavi was found in Kondagaon District, Chhattisgarh state, India. (Morning Star News)

(Morning Star News) – Tribal Hindus persecuted a widowed, Christian mother of four before her body was found severely mutilated in the wilderness near her village in Chhattisgarh, India, sources said.

The body of 40-year-old Bajjo Bai Mandavi was initially unrecognizable as it appeared to have been eaten by wild animals when it was found two miles into the wilderness near her native Kumud village, Kuye Mari, on May 29. She was last seen going into the wilderness of Kondagaon District to collect firewood on May 25.

The death threats, deprivation of water and shunning she had suffered at the hands of villagers who were upset that she left their blend of Hindu and traditional tribal rituals led family members and area Christian leaders to believe she was raped and killed before animals fed on her body, they said.

“There was no way to find out who the people were who raped my sister-in-law and then murdered her, so police and the authorities thought best to call it an attack by a wild animal,” a sobbing Bhajnath Mandavi, her brother-in-law, told Morning Star News.

Bhajnath Mandavi is the younger brother of Bhola Mandavi, who died of an illness four years ago, leaving Bajjo Bai Mandavi with children who are now 6, 8, 12 and 17.

Villagers had met four times to discuss action against her, area pastor Rupesh Kumar Salam told Morning Star News.

“She was threatened and asked to leave her faith and re-convert, but she boldly took a stand for her faith,” said Pastor Salam, who leads a church of about 120 people in nearby Kue Mari.

Bajjo Bai Mandavi had attended Sunday services there regularly with her children. In Kumud village, hers was one of just two Christian families among 21 other families.

The tribal Hindu families prohibited her from fetching water from the common village tap, forcing her to walk miles for it, Pastor Salam said.

“She bravely fought all the odds and refused to deny her faith even after she started to receive death threats from the Hindu extremist villagers,” Pastor Salam told Morning Star News. “Bajjo Bai became a Christian a little more than three years ago, and since then had faced severe opposition from the villagers.”

She regularly talked about the threats and shunning she and her children faced from the tribal Hindu villagers, he said.

“I always told her that we are praying for her and that everything will be fine – we could never imagine that she would face such brutality,” Pastor Salam said. “She was raped and then murdered by religious extremists for her Christian faith.”

Brother-in-law Mandavi said her own brother, who lives in her village, would not speak with her after she became a Christian three years ago.

“Nobody except one Christian family would speak to Bajjo Bai and her children,” he said.

An influential, tribal Hindu family in the village likely had a hand in the alleged rape and killing, said a source close to her family who requested anonymity.

“The villagers and all of us know who they are, but no action would be taken against them,” the source said. “They have a lot of money to enable them to keep themselves out of any trouble.”

If a homicide, it would be the third religiously motivated killing of a Christian in India within a few weeks. In Bari village, Jharkhand state, followers of tribal religion on June 7 abducted and killed Kande Munda. On the night of June 4 in Odisha state, followers of tribal religion abducted 16-year-old Sambaru Madkami for his faith before stabbing and stoning him to death.

In Uttar Pradesh state on May 28, villagers tried to kill pastor Dinesh Kumar in an ambush that left him unconscious.

Foul Play Dismissed

The remains of the semi-naked body were found in the wilderness by the driver of a passing tractor loaded with road construction material, Pastor Salam said.

The driver notified police, and Christians arrived at the site of the body with officers, he said.

The head of Kumud and four other area mountain villages, Gurcharan Bhandari, denied any foul play.

“She was probably killed by a wild animal,” Bhandari told Morning Star News.

Though he had not seen the police report, he said that it states that she was killed by a wild animal. Family members and church leaders also have not received a copy of the police report.

The village chief said an autopsy took place at the site where the body was discovered. Though neither he, victim family members or church leaders have received a copy of the autopsy report, Bhandari said it indicated that she was mauled to death by a wild animal.

The village chief said it was common for wild animals to attack humans in the wilderness but admitted that no such attack had ever taken place in the area where she was collecting firewood. He said the last attack took place three years ago in a far different part of the wilderness.

Bhandari said he suspects a bear might have killed her but could not explain why only her legs appeared to have been eaten.

Siya Yadav, who pastors a church in Keshkal 18 miles from Kumud, said he saw the body while driving his car after road construction forced him to a detour through the wilderness on May 28, but that he did not stop to look closer.

He visited the site later and said a wild animal possibly fed on the body after it lay in the wilderness for days.

“We could see that she died at one spot where the bundle of the sticks lay – there were evident marks that she was dragged by a wild animal to another spot and from there to the third spot,” Pastor Yadav told Morning Star News.

Search for Justice

Brother-in-law Bhajnath Mandavi said he is caring for the deceased’s two younger children. The 12-year-old child has been living with another relative 30 miles away for the past year, he said.

“I am still in shock. I do not know what the future of her four children will be,” said Mandavi, who was unable to attend his sister-in-law’s funeral due to coronavirus travel restrictions.

The oldest son, a contract laborer in Tamil Nadu state, was also forced to miss the funeral due to travel restrictions, he said.

“The eldest son could not come home even at his mother’s death,” Mandavi said.

Bajjo Bai Mandavi had supported her family as a daily-wage laborer. A senior pastor and Christian leader in the area said converts to Christianity in India’s rural areas increasingly face the threats and shunning she suffered.

“Social boycott is very real,” Pastor Son Singh told Morning Star News. “It is practiced even against high-ranking government officials when they accept Christ, so what can we say about this woman who was just a poor person and also a widow?”

Chhattisgarh Christian Forum President Arun Pannalal said Bajjo Bai Mandavi’s death exemplifies violence against Christians that is routinely dismissed.

“This is a crime against a minority community, and the authorities are not doing anything about it,” Pannalal told Morning Star News. “The Chhattisgarh Christian Forum will move to the High Court if this matter is not taken seriously.”

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom on April 28 urged the U.S. State Department to add India as a “Country of Particular Concern” to its list of nations with poor records of protecting religious freedom.

India is ranked 10th on the Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position has worsened since Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.

Christian Father of Two Killed in Jharkhand State, India

Bindi Munda receives visit from Jharkhand, India legal coordinator of ADF India after tribal villagers killed her husband. (Morning Star News)

India (Morning Star News) – When Kande Munda heard a knock on his door one night last month, the Christian father of two knew it was likely the same thugs and their colleagues in his area of Jharkhand, India who had harassed him for nearly four years.

They were particularly upset that Munda had reported them to police for a 2018 assault on his mother-in-law. The assailants, followers of tribal Adivasi religion, had opposed her conversion to Christianity by labelling her Christian prayers as “witchcraft” and gang-raping her.

Munda and his family were already in bed after a hard day of work on the night of June 7 when they heard the knock on the door. Munda told his wife not to answer it.

“He was suspicious that they must have come for him,” his wife, Bindi Munda, told Morning Star News.

Three men forced the door open and entered, while four or five remained outside, she said. Darkness obscured their faces.

“One of them pointed a gun at my husband and told the other two men that they should first rape me and then kill my husband,” Munda said.

Their children, ages 1 and 3, were asleep. The armed assailants seized her husband by the neck as he knelt and pleaded with them not to kill him, she said.

“I have done nothing wrong – please don’t kill me,” he cried repeatedly, according to his wife, who picked up their children, holding one in each arm, and fled into the wilderness. She hid there briefly before running into the village screaming for someone to save her husband.

“But by the time I had returned to our shanty with some neighbors, he was not there,” she said. “I went about half a mile on foot to a believer’s home to get their help to search for my husband.”

That night Kande Munda’s youngest brother, returning to Bari village on a motorbike, found his corpse in a pool of blood under a tree by the side of the road to Latardih village. The mutilated body was barely recognizable.

“He suspected that the body was that of his brother,” the wife of the deceased told Morning Star News. “He rushed to our shanty looking for us, and as he could not find us there, he called on my husband’s phone. I picked up the phone, and he told me that there was a corpse lying by the road, and it looked like that of my husband.”

Kande Munda, also known as Philip Munda, was 27.

It was the second killing of a Christian for his faith in India last month. On the night of June 4 in Odisha state, followers of tribal religion abducted 16-year-old Sambaru Madkami for his faith before stabbing and stoning him to death. In Uttar Pradesh state on May 28, villagers tried to kill pastor Dinesh Kumar in an ambush that left him unconscious.

Mixed Motives

Munda and his family previously practiced their traditional, animistic religion as tribal Adivasis. After he put his faith in Christ in 2017, his wife soon converted, and when her mother came for an extended visit in 2018, she too received Christ, Bindi Munda said.

After Adivasi villagers abducted her mother from their home, took her into the woods and gang-raped her, Kande Munda filed a police complaint, she said.

“The police investigated the matter and arrested some of the accused,” she said. “Since then, opposition against my husband and our Christian faith increased.”

Sanjay Sandil, a member of Siyon Church in the area, said the primary suspect remained at large. After police arrested some suspects, he said, one of Munda’s cousins continually harassed Munda with the help of some militant Maoist colleagues, pressuring him to withdraw the charges.

The cousin and Maoists issued an ultimatum about three months ago that Munda should drop the case or “face consequences,” Sandil said.

“Every time he would inform us about the harassment, we supported him as a church and stood by him,” Sandil told Morning Star News. “We always reached Bari village in the next couple of hours and ensured that the Maoist group did not lay hands on him or sister Bindi Munda.”

In May eight men surrounded their home, and Sandil and other Christians arrived to stand with the family, he said. Police also arrived and gave assurances that they would not let any of the accused go free, Sandil said.

The day of the attack (June 7), police had received word that the primary suspect was in Bari village and were searching for him, he said.

“They could not catch him, but in the night at around 8 p.m., the men unleashed the attack by forcefully entering his house,” Sandil said. “It is more likely that the same persons who gheraoed the house in May must have showed up at their shanty that night. Brother Philip Munda was brutally hacked to death with machetes. The marks can be seen clearly on the back of his body.”

Noble Soul

On June 8, officers at the Saiko police station registered cases against the eight men under sections for kidnapping or abducting to murder (Section 364) and murder (Section 302) of the Indian Penal Code.

“The persons who abducted and murdered Kande Munda have absconded from the crime scene soon after they committed his murder,” Superintendent of Police Ashutosh Shekhar told Morning Star News. “The investigation and search for the accused are still underway. We have been able to list the names of suspects, and a few other names also had surfaced during the investigation. All the accused persons would be arrested very soon.”

Sandeep Oraon, Jharkhand legal aid coordinator for advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom India, visited Munda’s family at their new location on June 24. He assured them of legal assistance in the matter and prayed with them.

Sandil recalled Munda as a noble soul – a selfless, skilled construction and field worker who would agree to work for half the normal wage for people who could not afford to pay more.

“He was providing for his family by working very hard,” Sandil said. “Now the small children do not have a father to provide and raise them.”

Bindi Munda has relocated with her children to another village, as the killers could come after her since she witnessed the abduction of her husband, he said.

“After Brother Philip Munda’s funeral service, the church members spent some time with sister Bindi, counselling her and telling her to remain strong in faith,” Sandil said. “She shared that her husband told her that he could be killed and asked her to bring up their children in a godly manner.”

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom on April 28 urged the U.S. State Department to add India as a “Country of Particular Concern” to its list of nations with poor records of protecting religious freedom.

India is ranked 10th on Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position has worsened since Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.

Christian Boy, 16, Stabbed and Stoned to Death for His Faith in Eastern India

Sambaru Madkami, 16, was killed in Odisha state, India. (Morning Star News)

(Morning Star News) – Incited by Hindu extremists, followers of traditional tribal religion in eastern India last week stabbed and stoned a 16-year-old Christian boy to death for his faith, sources said.

The mutilated body of Sambaru Madkami was found on Friday (June 5) buried in the jungle of Malkangiri, about six kilometers (less than 4 miles) from his village of Kenduguda, Malkangiri District, Odisha state. The village animists had seized him on Thursday night (June 4) after deciding to kill the male heads of the three Christian families in the village, area sources said.

“They had come for me,” Sambaru’s father, Unga Madkami, told Morning Star News, “but I was not at home. I had taken my daughter who was sick to the doctor.”

Living at home instead of the hostel of his school in Bhejaguda because of a COVID-19 lockdown, Sambaru had been leading daily meetings of a house church whose founding pastor, living in another town, dared to appear only twice a month due to villagers’ growing opposition. The only three Christian families in the village of 210 families met at Sambaru’s house.

“Sambaru knew the Word of God the most from among us,” his cousin told Morning Star News. “So he was the one who led us in a time of prayer and learning from the Bible every day in his house.”

Abduction

Some seven to 10 villagers came to his family’s home at about 11 p.m. on June 4 and called for his father, said an area resident whose name is withheld for security reasons.

As Sambaru’s father was staying overnight at a relative’s house en route to the hospital several miles away where he was taking his daughter for treatment, the villagers abducted Sambaru, the source said.

“They took him a few meters further, where a huge mob was waiting for him,” the eyewitness told Morning Star News, translated from the tribal language by an area pastor. “They tied his hands and started to beat him.”

The assailants then went to the house of Sambaru’s cousin, like his father also named Unga Madkami, and called for him, but his wife stopped him from going out and urged him to run for his life toward the jungle, the cousin told Morning Star News.

The attackers then called out to the third Christian male targeted, 18-year-old Sukka Padiami, who jumped out his back window and fled toward the jungle.

“Both I and Sukka ran all night across the jungle,” Sambaru’s cousin told Morning Star News. “We ran for almost 20 kilometers [12 miles] and then called our pastor, who directed us to go to his friend’s house, and we took refuge there.”

Murder

“The villagers were instigated to attack the Christians at the behest of Hindu extremists,” said area pastor Bijay Pusuru, a close friend of Sambaru’s family.

The assailants dragged Sambaru six kilometers from the village to the jungle, “completely” ripping off the skin on his back, Pastor Pusuru said, citing information from an autopsy report.

Sambaru’s village house church pastor, Inga Madkami, said information from police and the autopsy report indicated the assailants broke the young Christian’s legs and hands, put him in a sack and stabbed him with a knife.

“Several knife stabs are visible on his back, we were told,” Pastor Madkami said.

The autopsy indicated the assailants untied the knotted sack, tore open Sambaru’s mouth from both sides and smashed his face with a huge stone, the pastors said.

“His eyes, nose and face were not visible,” said Pastor Pusuru, sobbing. “It was all smashed.”

The autopsy indicated that the killers then struck the back of Sambaru’s head with a stone before slitting his throat, the pastors said.

“They dug a shallow pit and put his dead body there and covered it with mud and leaves,” Pastor Pusuru told Morning Star News.

Arrest and Confession

Police arrested six people after Sambaru’s cousin filed a complaint, and two of the suspects, Deba Madkami and another whose identity is unclear, confessed to the kidnapping and murder and led officers to Sambaru’s body, according to Inspector Ram Prasad Nag, the investigating officer who is also Station Head Officer of the Malkangiri police station.

“At the confession of two of the arrested, we were able to trace Sambaru’s mutilated body,” Nag told Morning Star News. “We are still in the process of investigation, and with new facts surfacing, the sections of the FIR [First Information Report] are being changed accordingly.”

FIR No. 180, registered on Friday (June 5), names four suspects – Deba Madkami, Budra Muchaki, Aaita Kabasi and Ramu Madi.

Police found Sambaru’s body at 7 p.m. on Friday (June 5) but didn’t recover and transport the body away until the next morning. After the autopsy, Sambaru’s family buried his body at a funeral service officiated by Pastor Pusuru on Saturday (June 6) in the deceased’s native Kenduguda, under police supervision at 9 p.m., Pastor Madkami said.

Sambaru’s cousin stated in his police complaint that Sambaru was abducted and killed for his Christian faith, but those arrested told officers that they killed him because he and the other targeted Christians were practicing “black magic,” according to Nag.

“In the last few weeks, 15 people have died due to various reasons in the village,” Nag told Morning Star News. “Some had swelling in their hands and legs; the villagers were suspecting Unga [Madkami, Sambaru’s father] to be involved in black magic and witchcraft.”

Sambaru’s relatives roundly denied the allegations, reiterating that the motive for the killing was, in the words of one, “purely our Christian faith.”

Mobbing villagers appeared little restrained by the arrests.

“Killing Sambaru was not enough, the villagers gathered together [on Friday, June 5] and decided to kill all the members of the three Christian families,” Pastor Pusuru told Morning Star News.

All members of the three Christian families had to lock their homes and flee from the village, he said.

To celebrate the gruesome murder, the villagers prepared a feast, Sambaru’s anguished cousin said.

“Villagers the next day looted one of Sambaru’s pigs and two quintals [about 440 lbs.] of rice from his house and went to the jungle, where they cooked the pig and the rice and celebrated ‘Odia Bhoji’ [a festival showcasing food from the Odisha state],” he said.

False Propaganda

Local media have repeated the false allegation of “black magic” as the motive for the killing, which in the minds of many villagers justifies horrific murder.

Pastor Pusuru said contaminated drinking water led to the recent deaths in the village, as local news channels had reported prior to the killing. The accusation of Christians practicing black magic as the cause of the deaths was later fabricated as an attempt to justify the killing, he said.

The Rev. Vijayesh Lal, general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), said his heart grieves with the family.

“The manner in which Sambaru was killed was most gruesome,” Lal told Morning Star News. “A promising young life was snuffed out because of the hatred that seems to have permeated the very soul of this nation, seeping into the very grassroots.”

The attempt to shame the victim evident in made-up stories of witchcraft is an indicator of the hostility that persists against the minority Christian community in India, he said.

“I know that Sambaru’s sacrifice will not be in vain – only God can bring good out of it, and my prayer is that He will,” Lal said.

Pastor Madkami, 27, who began visiting Kenduguda in 2018 and was leading Sunday and Friday fellowships in Sambaru’s house, said villagers had threatened him many times, telling him to stop visiting their village for prayer and fellowship.

“They planned to attack me several times, but somehow God saved me,” Pastor Madkami told Morning Star News. “I used to be very scared to go to their village. Though our scheduled meetings were on every Sunday and Friday, there were months when I only went twice a month on Fridays, fearing attack from the villagers.”

The church would worship silently, refraining from singing, and he would visit for only 30 minutes and leave immediately, he said.

“The complete village was against the Christian families and threatened them every now and then, trying to force them to leave Christianity,” Pastor Madkami told Morning Star News.

For his part, Pastor Pusuru said he had complained twice at the Malkangiri police station about rising threats against the Christians in the village, without effect.

Remembrance

“At such a young age, Sambaru had great zeal for God and for ministering to God’s people,” Pastor Pusuru said, in tears.

Pastor Madkami said Sambaru was a great soul.

“Sambaru was my church youth leader,” he said. “He was selected for children’s ministry as well. He would minister to the children whenever he came to my home church.”

Shibu Thomas, founder of advocacy and aid group Persecution Relief, said the murder has exposed the mentality and attitude of religious fanatics today.

“This by far has to be the most disturbing case of Christian persecution that I have encountered in the past four years,” Thomas told Morning Star News. “I am dumbfounded at the brutal nature of the crime.”

Dibakar Parichha, secretary for the Diocesan Commission for Justice Peace and Development from the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar, said it is not acceptable that such crimes continue to happen during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The government should take the toughest action towards the perpetrator of the crime so that peace can be brought to the locality,” he said.

Lal said EFI’s Religious Liberty Commission has chronicled at least 10 incidents of persecution against Christians in Odisha state this year.

On June 11, two lawyers from the Human Rights Law Network visited Sambaru’s family, as well as the two other targeted Christians, and recorded their statements. The HRLN team aided by local lawyers expects to petition the High Court of Odisha for a high-level inquiry into the case.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom on April 28 urged the U.S. State Department to add India as a “Country of Particular Concern” to its list of nations with poor records of protecting religious freedom.

Ramadan Day 19: Praying for Muslims to come to Christ –Delhi

(Voice of the Persecuted) Delhi, historic seat of Islam in India.

WHAT IS DELHI LIKE?

Among Delhi’s broad tree-lined boulevards, beautiful estates, parks, historic imperial buildings, government buildings, and gleaming sky-scrapers, are over-crowded older neighborhoods built in ancient times, as wejll as many densely populated slums. The vast, bustling, over-crowded, and never-sleeping city is filled with countless motorized rickshaws, cars, and buses.

The National Capital Territory of Delhi (NCT) includes New Delhi, the capital of India. 27 million people call the Delhi metropolitan area home, making it the third largest urban area in the world.

Despite long-standing efforts to limit air pollution, Delhi is among the most polluted cities in the world. The climate is a both humid and hot.

The people are 82% Hindu, 13% Muslim, and 3.5% Sikh. Other religious groups each account for less than 1%. Even though Delhi is a wealthy city, there is widespread poverty.

WHY IS DELHI SIGNIFICANT?

The first Muslim empire in India was founded in Delhi in 1206, and Seven Dynasties of the “Delhi Sultanate” ruled north India until 1526. Muslim Sultans in Delhi ruled the Hindu majority in parts of India for 650 years.

Today there are seven Muslim neighborhoods established by those dynasties. After that, the Mughal Dynasty (1526-1857), which at times controlled almost the entire continent, ruled from Delhi until they were conquered by the British.

Before the bloody partition of Pakistan and Bangladesh from India in 1947, one of the great human tragedies of the twentieth century, all Muslims in the subcontinent were led from Delhi. Today, numerous national and international Muslim organizations are based in the city. The decrees issued by Ahmed Bukhari, the Imam of Jama Masjid in Delhi (India’s largest mosque), hold great sway among Muslims nationwide.

Muslims in India often feel increasingly marginalized and powerless. Governmental policies have tragically encouraged increasing numbers of violent mob attacks by Hindus against Muslim “cow-killers.” Muslims generally keep low profiles across India.

WHAT IS GOD DOING IN DELHI TODAY?

In each of the Muslim communities established by the Seven Dynasties, there are at least a handful of believers, and in some, there are regular gatherings of people studying the Bible. There are people ministering in Muslim enclaves across Delhi. Others are ministering in the communities surrounding the tombs of Muslim saints. Yet, there does not appear to be any sizeable movement of Muslims to Christ in the city.

Good work is happening among refugees from Afghanistan and Pakistan, and there are small gatherings of Pashtun and Dari believers. Many creative types of outreach are happening. It is difficult for foreigners to serve as missionaries, and most take on creative access roles. Most of the senior workers have been forced out of India in recent years.

There is a small amount of persecution of believers by their families and communities, with the usual pattern of believers being expelled from their families, losing their children, their jobs, etc. But there is significant freedom for Muslims to become Christians in India, since Muslims fear Hindu government harassment much more than a few Muslims leaving Islam.

PRAYER POINTS

  • Pray for courageous Gospel witnesses in every Muslim neighborhood and ghetto.
  • Pray for the love of Jesus, through His followers, to meet urgent physical and spiritual needs.
  • Pray for Muslim students to search for Truth and find it in Jesus.

We continue to pray for the persecuted:

  • Leah Sharibu and Alice, both held captive by the Boko Haram.
  • For Pastor Wanh Yi from China, who has been sentenced to 9 years in prison for sharing boldly the love of God.
  • For Anita, a Christian convert recently sentenced to 10 years in prison for sharing the Gospel in Iran.
  • For Pakistani Christians and other minorities who are facing discrimination and persecution during the coronavirus crisis. Muslims are denying Christians relief food packages because of their faith in Christ.

“Our prayers do have an impact on the things of eternity and the souls of men and women to find truth in him who is the Living Word. Please join us on the prayer conference call to lift prayers up together. As ever, I remain your brother and prayer partner in our Lord Jesus. Meet you on the call!

If you are unable to participate on the call, or cannot join us on a particular evening, you can still use the prayer points and pray in your personal prayer closet. The only thing I would urge you is, please do it.  Whether you pray privately, in a group, or on our call, please pray for a great harvest of souls during this time of Ramadan.” – Blaine Scogin, Founder of Persecution Watch and former Prayer Director of Voice of the Persecuted.

As Blaine Scogin did each year, the team will continue to host nightly calls during Ramadan. We will be following along with the Prayercast Team’s platform in praying for Muslims for the next 30 days, which began on April 24. Please sign up here to receive the daily video and prayer points from Prayercast which we will cover on the nightly prayer conference calls. If you have yet to do so, it’s not to late. Dear brothers and sisters, we challenge you to join us on the conference call to pray with us during these 30 nights of prayer for the persecuted, the harvest, and for Muslims to come out of the dark, receive the truth and follow Jesus.

In Christ,

Voice of the Persecuted and the Persecution Watch Prayer Team

Nightly call schedule through Ramadan 

From any location on your phone

Time:

9:00 PM Eastern

8:00 PM Central

7:00 PM Mountain

6:00 PM Pacific

Call in number: 712 775-7035

Access Code: 281207#

Recommended: For those who may be subject to added charges for conference calls. Please download the app, it’s free!

MOBILE APP: Free Conference Call HD also provides a quick and easy way for you to dial into conference calls without having to remember the dial-in credentials. Save all of your conference call dial-in numbers and access codes using this free app. With the Free Conference Call HD you can instantly dial into a conference call via 3G/4G data network and or regular mobile carrier. Google Play link or App Store – iTunes

What is Persecution Watch?
Persecution Watch is a U.S. national prayer conference call ministry that prays specifically for the global Persecuted Church. For over a decade, Blaine Scogin led this national network of believers who faithfully pray for the persecuted and the global harvest for the Kingdom of God. The group meets via a free call-in service every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday night at 9pm Eastern (please check your time zone). Blaine also served as Prayer Director for Voice of the Persecuted and our missions became one. The prayer mission of Persecution Watch is an important part of our own. With the passing of Blaine into glory on December 26, 2019, Voice of the Persecuted is committed to continue the prayer conference call for the persecuted along with our dedicated prayer warrior team.

On occasion, persecuted brothers and sisters have been invited on the call to share the trials they’re facing. The team serves to encourage them by washing their feet in Spirit led prayer. Time is often reserved for those on the call to ask questions. We believe this helps to gain a better understanding of the situation that persecuted Christians endure in their specific nations. Q&A also helps us to focus our prayers based on their current needs.

Persecution Watch also hosts callers who want to pray united from other nations. If your heart is perplexed by the sufferings of our persecuted brothers and sisters, you no longer need to pray alone. We welcome all who desire to pray for the persecuted church and consider it a joy to pray together with you. If you’re new to the call and can’t find your voice, listen in and pray silently or on mute. We are grateful and thank the Lord for bringing us all together to pray in agreement for our persecuted family in Christ. We can all be prayer warriors on this call!

NOTE: Persecution Watch has a new email address for the prayer team and those who would like to receive urgent prayer requests, weekly call prayer points and notification of special prayer events and special guest speakers. Please fill out the form below to be included in our new distribution list to receive this important information. Since the passing of Brother Blaine Scogin, we thank you for your patience as we have transitioned into this new season. We are grateful for your prayers and to the Lord for guiding us as we continue the Persecution Watch prayer call mission.

Note to Voice of the Persecuted (VOP) readers: The Persecution Watch prayer team is also the prayer team of Voice of the Persecuted. SIGN UP today.

 

Christian Families Summoned, Beaten and Threatened with Death in Chhattisgarh, India

Animists forbid Christians to take body for Christian burial in Bastar District, Chhattisgarh, India. (Morning Star News)

India (Morning Star News) – Animists in central India last week told five Christian families they would lose their harvest lands unless they returned to their tribal religion and beat them when they refused, sources said.

When the families answered a summons to a meeting with Salhephal village leaders in Bastar District, Chhattisgarh state on Tuesday (May 5), they found the tribal elders estimating the value of their lands, pastor Sirisguda Ramdhar told Morning Star News. The Christians had forbidden a tribal animist leader, Dulla Poyami, to perform tribal worship on their land, he said.

“The village leaders told the Christians, ‘You are not partaking in our tribal rituals, and so we cannot allow you to profit from your agricultural lands,’” Pastor Ramdhar told Morning Star News.

The Christians told them the lands were registered in their names, and that they were working hard to earn their bread, he said. “We follow our faith but have never been a burden on this village or to our kinsmen – you cannot snatch away our lands,” they told the tribal elders, according to the pastor.

“Even before they spoke any word further, the elders stood up and stormed at Christians Madda Poyami and Badda Poyami,” he said.

They began beating the two Christians, and a mob of at least 60 people soon gathered around them and the Christian families, clamoring for them to renounce their faith in Christ, he said.

“When the Christians refused, they abused them in extremely vulgar language and started beating them,” Pastor Ramdhar said. “The mob was very furious and did not spare even the women. They stoned Madda Poyami, injuring him in his head and knee.”

Poyami was admitted to the government hospital in Jagdalpur for treatment. Christians Bodda Poyami, Raino Poyami, Sumani Poyami, Hande Poyame, Jagri Poyami and Besalbati Poyami were also injured in the mob attack, and some of them received medical treatment without being admitted to the hospital, Pastor Ramdhar said.

He said the tribal animists, who worship and sacrifice to various tribal gods based in nature, had threatened to expel the Christian families and seize their land for more than a year.

Son Singh Jhali, a lawyer allied with legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom India (ADF India), visited the injured at the hospital and helped them draft a complaint to be filed at the Kodenar police station.

“The medical proofs are important to support the complaint and enable the police officers to register cases against the assailants,” Jhali told Morning Star News.

Death Threat

Also on Tuesday (May 5) in Bastar District, residents of Naktoka village who follow a mix of tribal religion and Hinduism threatened to kill Christians if they tried to give a Christian burial for one of their dead in the community graveyard, Pastor Guptaram Kawasi said.

“A mob of more than 100 villagers opposed the burial of Bhima Kashyap in the graveyard allotted for villagers, accusing him of adopting foreign faith,” Pastor Kawasi told Morning Star News. “The Christian family was put under immense pressure to perform his last rites as per the Hindu and tribal traditions followed in the village.”

Villagers told the family they must undergo a reconversion ritual in order to perform last rites, he said.

“They threatened that they would kill everybody present at Kashyap’s home if they proceeded against the village’s customs,” Pastor Kawasi said.

On Wednesday (May 6), the Christians called ADF India’s Chhattisgarh Legal Aid Centre, and shortly thereafter the officer-in-charge of the Mardum police station arrived with the village revenue officer and his police force, he said.

“The revenue officer showed us the land for burial, and the funeral service was possible in the presence of police at around 4 p.m. the next day,” Pastor Kawasi said.

More Death Threats

Christians also were attacked recently in Dantewada District.

Nila Kunjam, 25, was at her home the morning of April 19 when three middle-aged villagers stormed in, area resident Sushil Kumar Kunjam said.

“It was around eight in the morning when we heard screams from Nila Kunjam’s home,” Kumar Kunjam told Morning Star News. “The assailants were shouting at her parents, ‘How dare you allow your daughter to partake in Christian prayers?’ Soon they drove her forcefully out of her home to a distance of about 50 meters as they beat her on her back, head and knees.”

A mob of at least 60 villagers gathered, accusing Kunjam of defiling her caste, he said.

“The mob kept looking on as the three assailants beat the 25-year-old Christian woman and vowed that they would kill her,” Kumar Kunjam told Morning Star News. “I followed the mob and started videotaping the brutality happening in front of my eyes, but they snatched away my phone and slapped me tightly on my cheeks.”

Nila Kunjam received severe blows on her back and knees and had to be admitted for hospital treatment, he said. Her family filed a complaint at Bacheli police station, but officers told them they couldn’t take any action until the government lifts a lockdown ordered to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, he told Morning Star News.

Other village Christians have also suffered. On Friday (May 8), two tribal leaders went to a pond where Christian women were bathing and washing clothes and threatened to kill them if they touched the water again, Kumar Kunjam said.

“As there is a severe water shortage, the common pond is the only source of water,” he said. “The common pond is for all the villagers, but they accuse Christians of defiling the pond.”

Also in Dantewada District, axe-wielding tribal animists in Jaram village on April 6 lingered outside a Christian family’s home at about 11 p.m., Pastor Anand Rao Nag said. Mangduram Kashyap, his wife Lalita Bai Kashyap and their children locked themselves inside fearing for their lives, Pastor Nag said.

They called Pastor Nag, who was unable to go to their home to help due to the coronavirus lockdown, he said. He maintained constant phone contact with them.

“The assailants kept watch outside to hack the Christians to death if they stepped out,” he said. “They told me that the village council had sent some persons into the village to enquire if any of the residents had converted to Christianity. The Kashyaps’ neighbors had informed the village elders that they go to church and pray inside their home.”

At around 6 a.m. the next morning (April 7), six of the villagers took the Kashyap family by force to a place in the village where a mob of around 200 villagers surrounded them, Pastor Nag said.

“Without uttering a word, the assailants started beating the Christian men and woman in Kashyap’s family, including their infant grandchild,” he told Morning Star News.

The village council told the family they would be brutally killed if they reported the attack to police and fined them 5,000 rupees (US$67) he said. They took the money by force along with the family’s goat and chickens.

“Mangduram Kashyap is undergoing treatment for his injured eye,” Pastor Nag said. “We request prayers for a speedy recovery.”

Villagers had also threatened the Kashyaps in 2012, telling them to renounce Christ, he said. The family complained to police, who took no action, he said.

Sacrifice to Tribal Deities

In Metapal village, also in Dantewada District, animists beat Christians who refused to comply with their demand to sacrifice their animals to tribal deities, sources said.

A mob of around 120 villagers led by tribal leaders showed up at Santuram Markam’s home on March 30 at around 4:30 p.m. and beat family members when they refused to renounce Christ, Markam said.

“The village council summoned us to a meeting demanding we bring a goat, pig, hen, coconut, incense sticks and cash of 5,000 rupees [US$66] as sacrificial offerings to the tribal deities,” Markam told Morning Star News.

When they refused to give in to their demands, the mob again barged into Markam’s home the next night (March 31) and started beating his aged parents, he said.

“I escaped from there and have run into the woods,” he told Morning Star News at that time, by telephone. “I will go back only after knowing about the situation there at home. I am very scared to back home now. They beat us yesterday, and they came again today. My Christian neighbor Raju Podiyami and his family also came under attack today.”

Superintendent of Police of Dantewada District Abhishek Pallava told Morning Star News that officers were exhausted from working extra hours due to the novel coronavirus and it was not possible to send a force there at midnight.

“I will try to make peace between the groups over the phone,” Pallava told Morning Star News at that time. “Nobody can reach there now. All the police force has been working day and nights because of coronavirus. It is a Naxalite [Maoist rebel] area, we cannot take risks by sending forces without any preparation.”

The animists on March 31 kidnapped Markam’s neighbor, Podiyami, from his home and locked him in a hut as they drank liquor throughout the night, area pastor Sushil Sangam said. After cutting through the thatched roof and escaping, Podiyami took his family of eight, injured from the previous day’s attacks, and sought refuge at Pastor Sangam’s church site in Tokapal village, Bastar District, the pastor said.

“But the residents of Tokapal, fearing the spread of coronavirus, had informed the police that some unknown persons had entered the village,” Pastor Sangam told Morning Star News.

The police took them to a government shelter, where they were quarantined – and there four of them contracted malaria, including Podiyami, according to Pastor Sangam.

The pastor said they are undergoing treatment in Tokapal and staying with him.

“We are taking care of them,” Pastor Sangam said. “They are very scared to go back to Metapal now.”

Had police taken action against the assailants, the Christians would not have been forced to step out of their village seeking refuge and ended up in a shelter where some contracted malaria, Pastor Sangam said.

“It is very difficult to get any help from the police at midnight, as it is a Naxalite belt, and the tribal extremist leaders are very well aware of this,” he told Morning Star News.

ADF India’s Jhali said that farmers are preparing the soil, which involves sacrificial offerings to tribal deities, with the village council collecting funds and animals to be offered.

“But Christians refuse to partake in this ritual,” Jhali said. “This has been the one main reason for the spike in violent attacks against Christians amid lockdown.”

Jhali said officers at the Katekalyan police station had registered a First Information Report against the assailants under sections of the Indian Penal Code for rioting, obscene acts, voluntarily causing hurt and criminal intimidation.

India is ranked 10th on Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position has worsened since Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.

 

 

Gunmen Shoot, Wound Daughter of Pastor Slain in 2015 in Eastern India

Pastors and other Christians pray at home of pastor Chamu Hassa Purty the day after he was shot dead in October 2015. (Morning Star News)

(Morning Star News) – A gunman at the door of a Christian family’s home in eastern India on Thursday (April 16) shot the daughter of a pastor who was killed in the same house five years ago, family members said.

Neelam Purty, 25, sustained bullet wounds in her thumb and thigh in the shooting she survived in Sandih village, near Binda village in Murhu Block, Jharkhand state, they said.

“Is this the house of the pastor who was killed?” one of two men asked family members at the door at about 8 p.m., according to Purty’s sister, Sharon Purty.

She said the men were trying to speak in the local Mundari dialect, but that it was clearly not their native language. They resorted to speaking Hindi, she said.

“That pastor was killed, but you did not learn a lesson,” the men said as they shouted at family members at the door, according to Sharon Purty, who said they added. “You have continued assembling in large numbers for Christian prayers. Where is the woman working as spy?”

The sisters’ mother told them that they were not spies and asked them to leave, Sharon Purty said.

“‘Call the woman out, or we will kill you,’ they threatened us,” she said.

One of the men, masked in black cloth, handed a pistol to the one standing behind him and told him to load it, Sharon Purty said. At that point she, her mother and younger brother were near the door.

“My sister, Neelam Purty, who was making the bed until then, also came to the front room wondering what we were still doing there,” she said. “The masked gunman pointed at her and screamed, ‘She is the one – she is the spy!’”

Their mother told him he was mistaken, that her daughter was a schoolteacher in Jamshedpur city. The family had moved out of the home in the village after pastor Chamu Hassa Purty was shot dead there in 2015, but on April 15 members returned from different schools and colleges that were shut down as the government announced that a lockdown due to the new coronavirus was extended to May 3.

Sharon Purty said her mother was pleading with the gunmen to leave when the masked one told the other to shoot.

“He fired at her – she was standing there with her hands straight, and the bullet pierced into her right thigh through her thumb,” Sharon Purty told Morning Star News. “Our father was shot to death in that same room. We cried for help, and both the gunmen got on a motorbike and sped away from there.”

Family members tied Neelam Purty’s thigh and hand with cloth to slow blood flow and, without any means of transport, obtained help from a church member to take her to Murhu police station on a motorbike, Sharon Purty said. Her wounded sister’s thigh bone fractured as they put her on the vehicle, she said.

A pastor with a car picked up Neelam Purty from Murhu police station and took her to Khunti Government Hospital, where doctors provided First Aid and referred her to the Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS) in Ranchi, she said.

RIMS doctors initially said she would undergo an operation on Sunday (April 19) but postponed it, leaving Neelam Purty’s mother, two younger sisters and a younger brother worried that the bullet was still in her, Sharon Purty said. Neelam Purty underwent an operation today (April 21).

Before Thursday night’s shooting, her younger brother had initially answered the door when one of the gunmen knocked and mimicked the voice of a grand-uncle, she said.

Seeing two strangers, one masked, the shocked brother ran to family members in the bedroom, Sharon Purty said. Her mother went to the door and asked the men what they wanted.

“My younger brother and I also went into our front room to check who the persons were and why had they come to our house,” Sharon Purty told Morning Star News, adding that when the men asked if this was the house of the pastor who was killed, the siblings figured they were from the same group that killed him.

“But we were too young back then and do not remember their faces now,” she said. “The two men were not very tall. They stood one behind the other. The one standing in the front, facing us directly, was wearing a worn-out jacket. His hair was long and dirty. He covered his face with a black cloth and looked like a criminal. But the one standing behind him had neatly tucked his shirt and looked like an educated, well-groomed person.”

Police Investigation

Inspector Pappu Kumar Sharma of Murhu police station told Morning Star News that a case has been registered and that an investigation is underway.

“We will tell you when we catch the culprits,” he said adding, “Neelam Purty is responding well to the medical treatment offered at RIMS hospital. As it was a Sunday, the operation had to be postponed. She is under the observation of good doctors. They will conduct the operation soon.”

A representative for legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom India said he urged District Superintendent of Police Ashutosh Shekhar to conduct a speedy and fair investigation. Shekhar said police had raided a few places and would arrest the culprits soon, the ADF India representative said.

Shekhar told Morning Star News that police have three or four suspects based on leads they have received.

“There is no Naxal movement in this part [Binda village] of the state,” he said. “And there is no direct link of this incident with their father’s killing as of now, but we cannot rule out that possibility also.”

He noted that Neelam Purty has lived in Jamshedpur “for quite some time, and the incident occurred the very next day after she came to her village. We are questioning local gangs operating in that area, and also the family’s disputes with their extended family in the village, the call records of their family members and the call records of people residing in that area.”

An area pastor said the family needs to move to a safe, rented house in a secure area, which will be difficult to find amid the coronavirus lockdown.

Sharon Purty said police must arrest the assailants soon, “as they have seen our faces and recognize us – we feel very unsafe.”

Father Slain

Before her father was killed on Oct. 12, 2015, he had prayed for a sick boy in a nearby village and helped his parents admit him into a hospital, Sharon Purty said.

After coming home that night and going to bed by 10 p.m., there was a knock on the door at about 11 p.m., she said. Her mother got up and saw through a narrow window in the front room eight men who told her that a boy was sick and asked if Pastor Purty could pray for him.

“My dad woke up and asked for the boy’s address,” Sharon Purty said. “They gave the same address where my father just returned from after admitting him at the hospital. We had figured that they were following my father’s movements.”

When the men asked her mother to open the door and give them a drink of water, she told them to get water from the well and leave, Sharon Purty said.

“My father and mother came to the room where we were sleeping and told us that we should flee from the rear door,” she said. “As we were about to move, two of them held us and brought us back to the front room. They fired at my father many times and at walls also.

“After my father’s killing, we had moved out of our native village and rarely went there. It was because of the coronavirus lockdown that we had gone there to stay. In 2016, another pastor, Pastor John, who was a close aide to my father and had continued the ministry in the village after him, also was killed.”

India is ranked 10th on Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position has worsened since Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.

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