VOICE OF THE PERSECUTED

Home » Posts tagged 'India'

Tag Archives: India

Categories

Archives

Christian Families Driven into Jungles of Eastern India

Photo: Christians driven from their homes in Rayagada District, Odisha state, India. – Morning Star News

(Morning Star News) – Tribal animists forced more than 50 Christians from three villages to flee their homes and take shelter in the jungles of eastern India last month.

The Christians belong to 13 tribal families of Rayagada District, Odisha state who have been stranded in the jungle without proper shelter, food, water and electricity.

“It is the rainy season now, and we fear the sickness that comes with rainfall, the poisonous insects and the unhygienic conditions we are living in,” Nori Kanjaka of Sikarpai village told Morning Star News.

Five Christian families fled Kotlanga village on June 7 after receiving threats. They took the threats seriously as villagers who practice traditional religion in Sikarpai, 20 miles away, on May 23 had destroyed the roofs of the homes of six Christian families, looted their belongings and beat them, driving them into the jungle, victims said.

The villagers in Kotlanga had threatened to assault the five Christian families and prevented them from building their roofs. Opposition was so fierce, according to sources, that the Christians had to flee to the jungle to avoid attack on the night of June 7 and joined the Sikarpai Christians who were already sheltering in there.

Tribal animists in other area villages are driving out Christians, Kanjaka said.

“After the villagers in the other villages heard of how we were chased from our village, they too have forced Christians living among them to leave the village, either by threats or by physically attacking them or by illtreating them,” Kanjaka told Morning Star News from the jungle.

Two families from Chichinga village were also forced to take shelter in the jungle. There are now 57 men, women and children there living in shelters of used polyethene sheets and wood, Kanjaka said.

Besides Sikarpai, Kotlanga and Chichinga, Christians of three other villages – Siripai, Kona and Tongapai, also in Rayagada District – have also faced opposition and ostracization, said area pastor Upajukta Singh.

Police Suggest Renouncing Christ

Despite registering several complaints with police, the Christians continue to face opposition, and officers have done little to protect them, victims and Christian leaders said.

Christians registered complaints on May 10 and March 15 at the Singhpur police station.

“A FIR [First Information Report] has been registered in two cases, but the Christians in all these villages continue to face opposition for their faith,” Pastor Singh said.

Christians have also notified block and district administrations of the attacks without receiving any assistance, they said. Authorities told Christians they must renounce Christ to resolve the conflict, sources said.

“They [officials] told us that you step back, deny your Christian faith and come back to your tribal fold, only then peace will return. What is the use of such a faith?” said one of the victims who requested anonymity.

Christians who reported the May 25 attack to local police said the officer in charge and the sub-collector visited the Christians in the jungle on Tuesday (June 22).

“They told us to go back to the village and live with the villagers, perform their rituals and worship the deities they worship,” Rupa Kanjaka said. “We have been asked not to conduct our prayers.”

Refusal to Resolve Conflict

Pastor Prakash Bhatra, a senior Christian leader and a member of the Odisha Pastor’s Association, told Morning Star News that attacks began in November 2020, when two Christian families from Chiching village were forced out of their homes for praying.

Villagers took their belongings from their homes and burned them, he said.

“The two Christian families are living outside the village and could not return to their homes,” Pastor Bhatra said.

In Sikarpai village, high-caste Hindus prevented a marriage ceremony in a Christian home. They told the Christians not to hold any weddings and kept them from drawing water from the only village tube-well.

“We had to struggle to obtain water for the marriage preparations, Sikarpai resident Nori Kanjaka told Morning Star News. “We decided to walk a few miles and fetch water from a neighboring village. On March 13, when two girls from our family had gone to fetch water in the evening, three men sexually molested them. They tore their clothes and attempted to rape them, but some of our men reached them in time and rescued them.”

After Christians on March 15 registered an FIR about the attack at the Singhpur police station, villagers threatened to drive the Christians from the village, Nori Kanjaka said.

Christians praying together on May 23 were interrupted by the local tribal animists, she said.

“The villagers said that their deities live in the village, and our prayers were causing disturbance to their deities,” Nori Kanjaka said. “So, they said that they cannot let us live in the village – we must carry on with our prayers outside the village.”

The tribal village men beat the Christians, and then they sent the women of their homes to dismantle the roofs of the Christians’ homes.

“If the men would have done this, the police would have taken action against them, so it is safer to send women, because the police will just spare them,” Rupa Kanjaka said.

The women climbed the roof of each home and removed the rooftop tiles so that six Christian families had no shelter and had to flee, he said.

“The women told us to leave the village immediately, or we would be killed,” Rupa Kanjaka said. “There are pictures and videos that we shot while the women dismantled our roofs.”

The men looted the homes of the Christians and carried away all their domestic animals, said Pastor Bhatra.

When the Christians approached the village elders and headman to request peace talks, the elders told them to leave the area, saying Christian prayers disturbed their deities, Rupa Kanjaka said.

“We picked up everything that was left in our homes and moved to the jungle,” he said.

On May 29, the Rayagada deputy collector, sub-divisional officer of police and the station officer in charge met with the headman of Sikarpai village to initiate peace talks, Pastor Bhatra said.

“But the villagers refused to settle the matter,” he said.

Christian leaders wrote an application signed by all family heads in the jungle and sent it by post to the director general of police, collector, chief secretary and various high officials, he said.

Attorney Samuel Tandi told Morning Star News that the villagers and the Christians have been summoned before the executive magistrate under Section 107 of the Code of Criminal Procedure for “security for keeping peace.” A case was registered against 10 Christians and six villagers, and they were required to present themselves before the executive magistrate to sign a “peace bond” before the magistrate, Tandi said.

When the magistrate summoned both parties on June 17, the Christians appeared, but the six animist villagers were absent, he said.

“The court has ordered again for the six villagers to present themselves and will summon the Christians once again, if need be,” Tandi said.

He emphasized that these Christians were not recent converts but had been following Christ for 14 years.

“If they [villagers] had problem with prayers, then why did they not oppose them earlier?” Tandi said. “Why is it that it is only in the past year that they have suddenly started to express their displeasure? It is evident that someone is instigating them, and thus this sudden opposition.”

In Siripai village, police intervention led to peace talks between the Christians and the followers of tribal religion, sources said, while in Kona village, Christians had to leave their farmland. Villagers there told them to abandon their faith in order to continue farming.

“They incurred a huge loss of land and all the grain that they had sown on the land,” Pastor Bhatra said. “They had tilled the soil but had to just abandon it, and the persecutors enjoyed the harvest.”

In Tongapai village, outsiders came and instigated villagers to assault Christians living there, the pastor said. The police intervened to carry out peace talks that resolved the conflict, he said.

The hostile tone of the National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, against non-Hindus, has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, religious rights advocates say.

India ranked 10th on Open Doors’ 2021 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, as it was in 2020. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position worsened after Modi came to power.

Hindu Nationalists Incite Animists to Attack Christians in India

Church structure demolished in Chichima village, Rayagada District, Odisha State on Dec. 13, 2020. (Morning Star News)

(Morning Star News) – Six Christian families were worshipping in a wood-and-hay structure in eastern India last month when an influential man of wealth wielding an axe led others in and, in coarse language, asked why they had abandoned their tribal religion.

Elder Burjo Tadinji of the church in Odisha state’s Chichima village, answered, “We have known the true living God; we will not leave him. We used to indulge in fights and speak lies, but we do not do all that now. We like this faith, and that is why we follow it.”

Outraged, the leader of the mob of 20-25 men from three different villages began swinging the axe on the church structure, according to pastor Bibudhan Pradhan, who normally leads the small congregation of 15 but was absent that day (Dec. 13).

“They manhandled the Christians, damaged [an adjacent] Christian home, and broke the thatched structure with the axe,” Pastor Pradhan, 48, told Morning Star News. “They threatened to chase them out of their homes and the village if they reported the matter to the police.”

The mob joined in, and soon the church structure was reduced to pieces, with Tadinji’s adjoining home also damaged. They tore the clothes of one Christian and with a stone broke the mobile phone of another Christian recording the attack, Pastor Pradhan said.

The mob leader, whose name is withheld to protect area Christians, then warned them not to report the attack to police, church elder Tadinji said.

“If the police come, we will not let you live in the village and we will chase you away,” he said, according to Tadinji.

The Christians present were all converts from animistic tribal religion. The animist assailants were trained and incited by Hindu nationalists, sources said.

Pastor Pradhan established the church in Chichima, a remote mountain village in Rayagada District, five years ago. The land on which the structure was built belongs to Tadinji.

“Though I insisted that we file a complaint, the villagers fear the repercussions and refuse to risk losing their birth-village,” Pastor Pradhan said.

Tadinji said the Christians delivered a written complaint of the assault to the village head.

“He said, ‘I will deal will this’ but did nothing,” Tainji said. “He too fears the influential man.”

‘Hinduization’ of Tribals

Members of the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) are visiting area villages and appointing leaders, sources said.

RSS members usually identify a tribal villager with leadership qualities and a strong physique, train him in influential speaking, and task him with propagating the idea that the tribal people are Hindus even if they practice the animistic rituals of their ancestors. In every village in Rayagada District, a source who requested anonymity said, Hindu nationalists have placed an image of the Hindu deity Shiva.

Pastor Pradhan said all the villagers are told to sacrifice a chicken to Shiva every year.

“It is in the tribal culture to offer a sacrifice of a chicken while buying land, planting seed, harvesting the land, and other occasions,” he told Morning Star News. “When someone in their homes has fever or illness, they sacrifice a chicken to please the god of nature. They seldomly visit hospitals – only in emergencies. They often visit the witch doctor, who again demands them to perform sacrifice.”

Sukanta Naik, a volunteer for the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) who has travelled to Odisha for 40 years, said Hindu nationalist groups have become very active in indoctrinating tribal people. Hindu nationalists increasingly try to drive a wedge between tribal peoples and Christians, persuading villagers that those who have left their beliefs and other rituals have betrayed their ancestors, gods, and the country of India.

The Hindu nationalists then obtain tribal support for political candidates and policies and introduce Hindu beliefs and practices into animist religious systems, analysts say.

Ostracized

Villagers in Chichima stopped associating with Christians when tribal people there first converted about five years ago, Pastor Pradhan said.

“Fear has gripped their minds, and they need much prayer,” he said, unsure when church services might resume.

Villagers have warned the pastor not to enter the village, saying they will damage his motorbike, he said, adding that police stand with the Hindus and do not protect the Christians.

Odisha (formerly Orissa) state, where Christians make up less than 2.8 percent of the total population, saw anti-Christian violence in 2008 in which more than 120 people lost their lives, at least 50,000 people were internally displaced and more than 6,000 Christian homes were destroyed and damaged.

The hostile tone of the National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, against non-Hindus, has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, religious rights advocates say.

India ranked 10th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2021 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, as it was in 2020. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position worsened each year after Modi came to power.

Chhattisgarh Attack

Pastor Pradhan, who has also ministered to Christians in Kondagaon District, Chhattisgarh state, said that Christians in the area are still living in fear after a mob of more than 3,000 agitators on Sept. 22 damaged 10 homes belonging to seven Christians in Kakadbeda.

The next morning, they proceeded to Singanpur village, damaging homes of three Christians, and Tiliyabeda village, damaging the homes of two Christians, he said. They assaulted Christians and sent them fleeing for their lives.

“They are praying in their own homes,” Pastor Pradhan said. “I went to visit them to start regular worship service, but they refused. Only after they feel safe to start a church service, they will inform me. So they have asked me not to visit them until then.”

Worship in a church in Perigaon village, Rayagada District, Odisha state has also ceased. Tribal animists there have on three occasions blocked Pastor Pradhan and his wife from entering by placing a huge log on the road, he said. On Dec. 1, 2018, the animists burned the church building where he had led services.

Pastor in India Locked in Room and Left to Die

Mahabodhi temple in Bodh Gaya, Buddhist site venerated by both Buddhists and Hindus in Bihar state, India. (Creative Commons, Ineb-2553)

India (Morning Star News) – The last thing pastor Shelton Vishwanathan recalled happening before he lost consciousness in a village in northeast India was Hindu extremists threatening to offer him as a sacrifice to their god as they belted his head.

“They punched my back and told me that they would offer me as a sacrifice to their deity as a punishment for distributing gospel tracts,” he told Morning Star News. “They struck severe blows on my head, so that I soon fainted.”

When the six radical Hindus first stopped him and told him to quit handing out tracts in Tiryani village, in Bihar state’s Sheohar District on Oct. 5, he had told them “Fine” and was about to go on his way when one of them seized the keys from his scooter, took away his phone and signaled the others to attack him, he said.

When he regained consciousness, he found himself locked in a dark room.

“I shouted for help, cried loud hoping someone would hear my cries and come to help me, but nobody could hear me,” Pastor Vishwanathan said. “I was lying down on the floor without food or water for the next few days. They did not give me anything to eat or drink.”

Seven days later, an elderly woman who lives nearby heard his cries and knocked on the door, he said.

“She told me that the door was bolted from outside and that she would open it for me on the condition that I would not tell anyone that she opened it,” said Pastor Vishwanathan, who leads a house church of 18 people. “She was very scared that if the assailants found out that she opened the door, she would also land in trouble.”

He explained what had happened and told her he would starve and die there if she did not open the door, the pastor said. She took him out of the room and later gave him food and water.

“Had she not helped, I would not be alive today,” he said. “I fully believe that it was God who sent her to help me.”

After returning to his home in Sheohar with strangers helping him to find his way by foot, he learned from neighbors that his family had searched for him throughout the district. Frightened, the family members sold some furniture in order to make it to his wife’s hometown in Nepal. Bihar state borders Nepal.

The assailants had taken his phone – which contained his in-laws’ phone number – and Pastor Vishwanathan had no money to make a phone call. Neighbors offered him food, some money and an old cell phone, but for weeks he could not reach his wife. With help from other Christians, eventually he was able to make contact and pay for his family to return home on Nov. 28.

Through the intervention of legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom India, senior pastors from Patna, capital of Bihar state, offered their assistance, suggesting he file charges against the attackers, he said.

“But I did not want to pursue a case against the assailants,” Pastor Vishwanathan said. “I had come under attack several times for leading a home church and sharing the gospel in villages but survived only because of God’s grace. Even in the past, the police warned me that there is a threat to my life. As the Navratri [Hindu festival] celebrations were in full swing, if I was found again the assailants might have really offered me as a sacrifice to the deity.”

Eight Hindu extremists in Sheohar District had attacked him on June 23, 2019, pushing him off his scooter and breaking his hand and foot as they beat him.

Violence against Christians in Bihar state has increased in the past two years, with attacks on house churches and pastors happening weekly, sources said. Many of those attacked choose not to call police, as officers are often complicit in Hindu extremist aggression.

Pastor Vishwanathan has had to vacate his home.

“The landlord of our rented home got to know that I was locked up in a room for a week, and he told me that he cannot risk the lives of others by letting me stay in the house knowing there is a threat to my life,” he said. “He issued an ultimatum to vacate the house.”

With financial help from Christian groups, he was able to find another rented house, he said. The assailants took his motor-scooter, and as he bought it used and has no vehicle documents, police have told him there is no way to find it.

The pastor hopes to continue distributing tracts.

“I am overjoyed to see the Lord’s hand in every situation over the past two months,” Pastor Vishwanathan. “My family who thought I must have been lost and died have returned to see me alive. We give thanks and praises to the Lord.”

 

Long Ostracized Christian Withstands New Level of Persecution in India

Followers of traditional tribal religion attack Sattar Singh Markam, a Christian resident of Bargaon, Gariaband District, Chhattisgarh state, India. (Morning Star News)

(Morning Star News) – Representatives of eight village councils in central India first summoned a new Christian to give him an ultimatum in October.

They interrupted a church service on Oct. 18 asking for Sattar Singh Markam.

“I was conducting the church service when some men came to call Markam and asked him to present himself before the council,” pastor Chitrasen Sahu told Morning Star News. “He went to see them after the church service was over.”

At the joint meeting in Bargaon, in Chhattisgarh state’s Gariaband District, they told Markam to renounce Christ or “leave with your Christian faith and never come back,” Pastor Sahu said.

Markham, who was suffering three epileptic seizures a day before he put his faith in Christ 12 years ago, told them the Lord had healed him and given him life and that he would never turn away from his Christian faith.

A week later, on Oct. 25, a tribal mob of about 300 people incited by radical Hindus attacked his house after his church, which meets there, had finished worship. Two women remained inside, praying, when the mob arrived and began manhandling and arguing with them while Markam was working in his field. The mob also damaged his house.

When he returned, the women left, and the mob began arguing with him.

As they told him to leave Christianity or face the consequences, Markam told them how he was miraculously healed through Christ. They scoffed at him and began slapping and pushing him, he said. Markam fell to the ground, and the mob beat and kicked him.

“They kept asking me, ‘Now tell us, will you leave your Christian faith and come back to your ancestral faith?’” he told Morning Star News. “I replied, ‘If I had not found Christ, I wouldn’t be alive today; I will not leave Christ at any cost.”

‘Attack His Livelihood’

The mob left after beating him, Markam said.

“While they went,” he told Morning Star News, “they told each other, ‘He will not agree like this – let us attack his livelihood, his fields. When we harvest his crops, he won’t be able to sustain his family and survive in the village without food and money. He will automatically leave the village and flee.’ I am so shaken by what I overheard.”

The next day he filed a complaint with the Sobha police station. Officers registered a First Information Report under Indian Penal Code sections for obscene acts, voluntarily causing hurt, criminal intimidation, destruction, damage or defilement of a place of worship and criminal acts done with common intention.

Police have made no arrests, Pastor Sahu said.

Markam and his family have faced opposition for their faith since they became Christians. At a large meeting in a nearby village 11 years ago, they pressured him to leave Christ, deciding to socially boycott him and his family when he refused. He could not speak with, buy from or sell to anyone in the village.

Nor would anyone work for him.

“For 11 years, Markam has cultivated his land by himself with no help,” said Pastor Sahu. “People are afraid to work even as hired hands on his field because of the warnings. He has suffered much for Christ’s sake, but it has not deterred him from his faith.”

Fomenting Hatred

Arun Pannalal, president of the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum, said systematic, coordinated attacks on area tribal Christians began in the last six months.

“Outsiders and nontribal people are the ones instigating these attacks,” he said. “There is absolute political silence on them, and the inaction of the police is the only answer we get. The tribal belt in Bastar region [including Gariaband District] is simmering, and a large-scale ethnic violence can erupt at any moment.”

In recent years Hindu nationalist groups have targeted tribal people through propaganda and social programs, leading many to believe that they were originally Hindus. Tribal Christians have maintained their tribal identity and their Christian faith, infuriating Hindu nationalists.

“Seven districts of south Chhattisgarh known as the Bastar area are under the grip of organized terrorism by Hindu fundamentalists groups,” Pannalal told Morning Star News. “Their agenda is to overall create terror, thus establishing their supremacy, fomenting hatred, which in turn precipitates the Hindutva [Hindu nationalist] votes [out of hard-core religious bigotry].”

The Christian community, being neither militant nor uniform and having no representation in the state government, is a soft target, he said.

Markam and his household, including his parents, wife and five children, remain the only Christian family in Bargaon village, where tribal people make up 88.7 percent of the population, according to 2011 Census data.

On Nov. 10 Markam and local Christian leaders submitted a memorandum to the Gariaband District collector pleading for action against the attackers.

The Chhattisgarh Christian Forum has requested the district administration to hold meetings between Christians and their adversaries in disturbed areas, Pannalal said.

“The administration should take steps of preventive detention and assure that law and order situation does not go out of hand,” he added.

The forum also has approached several ministers in the Congress Party-led state government seeking their intervention.

India 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.

Christians in Hiding after Brutal Mob Attack in Central India

In Chhattisgarh state, India, Madkam Sanni was attacked with a sickle and Madvi Muka sustained serious head wounds. (Morning Star News)

India (Morning Star News) – Several families are in hiding after tribal animists in Chhattisgarh state, India threatened to kill them for reporting a mob attack to police last week that sent 21 Christians to hospitals, sources said.

Armed with bamboo sticks, iron rods, bows and arrows and iron sickles, the large mob at 1 a.m. on Nov. 25 attacked a home and adjoining church hall in Chingrwaram village, Sukma District, where Christians had celebrated a child dedication the previous evening. Some 20-25 friends and family were sleeping in the home and another 25-30 in the church hall when the villagers, many of them drunk, attacked while accusing the Christians of converting people and celebrating with loud music.

“They beat up the children as well as the women who were cooking food outside,” said Laxman Mandavi, a 21-year-old survivor of the assault. “While the children were beaten up with hands and feet, the others were shot at with arrows and beaten up with iron rods.”

The assailants shot Mandavi’s father, the 50-year-old homeowner Madvi Muka, with arrows, leaving him wounded, and attacked Madkam Sanni with a sickle that left deep cuts between her fingers and fractured her hand, Mandavi said.

“It was complete mayhem, and people were running to save their lives,” another victim, 24-year-old Laxshu Madkam, told Morning Star News. “I received two cuts on my back. My motorbike was broken. The attackers also broke 10 more motorbikes. They pulled the petrol pipes out of 20 more bikes and let the fuel flow.”

Mandavi said that four of the assailants entered a room where they found a young Christian woman and attempted to rape her.

“The attackers surrounded an unmarried sister and tore her clothes attempting to rape her,” he told Morning Star News. “When she started screaming loudly, they dragged her outside and beat her black and blue. She sustained severe internal injuries.”

Mandavi said the assailants destroyed all grain in the storehouse, damaged the house and belongings inside it and scattered the food that was being prepared for the guests’ breakfast.

“They also alleged that we were converting people and influencing them to turn them to our faith,” he said.

Pastor Musaki Kosa, who leads the church that meets at the home, had attended the dedication along with about 80 others (COVID-19 restrictions in the area allow gatherings of up to 100 people). Like most of the nearly 50 people who were staying overnight at the home and church hall, he was asleep when the mob attacked.

“I was able to slip away just in time and hid myself behind the bushes at the edge of the field,” he said. “I was able to see the attack going on from there. They beat up people in a heartless and cruel way.”

Many of the guests escaped to the jungle to save their lives, including Mandavi.

“I heard noise from outside, and suddenly people came in the house – they were saying, ‘We will kill Madvi [his father] and Laxman [Mandavi] today,’” Mandavi said. “When I heard that they are planning to murder us, I slipped away through the back door. I ran to the jungle and stayed there for the rest of the night. I was alone and scared.”

Mandavi said his father had been receiving threats from villagers for two months.

“They planned to attack us, and nearly two months ago had even threatened that they will beat us,” he said. “We know and recognize everyone who attacked us. Our relationship with them has been cordial historically, but we suspect that outsiders have provoked them against us.”

The assault continued until after dawn.

“The attack went for a long time,” Pastor Kosa said. “It seemed like it would not end.”

Some survivors said they ran to the nearest Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) camp and asked for help, but CRPF soldiers refused to go with them, stating that it was night-time.

“The CRPF men said that, ‘Unless we get orders from our seniors, we cannot act,’” Mandavi said. “We made innumerable calls to the local police station, to personal mobile numbers, to the emergency numbers, but nobody answered our calls. Most of the personal numbers were turned off, and they did not come until 8 in the morning.”

Assuming it was safe to return, some guests who had fled returned to the church hall at about 6 a.m., only to walk into an ambush, Mandavi said.

“A few of us went back to see how things were, and others accompanied them,” he said. “They did not know that the attackers were waiting for whoever came back. All who went back to see the situation were roughed up very badly.”

A Christian who had not been at the prior evening’s dedication celebration, Madvi Madka, was among those who visited the church hall the next morning.

“Madvi Madka was beaten up so severely that his ribs have been broken, and he is unable to breathe properly,” Mandavi said. “His hand is broken, and he is hurt in the chest as well. He was taken to the hospital in a critical condition.”

Pastor Kosa said many sustained internal injuries and bruises, including at least 10 Christians with head injuries. Madi Chuki suffered a hip injury, and Muchaki Ungi injuries to his ribs and hands, he said.

“Nobody was spared,” Pastor Kosa said. “Christians were beaten ruthlessly to the extent that blood started to ooze out of the bodies.”

Police arrived at 8 a.m., after the assailants had fled, and called for ambulances, survivors said. Officers sent 21 injured Christians to different hospitals according to the nature of their injuries, though many did not receive even first aid, Pastor Kosa said. By evening of Nov. 25, hospitals had admitted 14 of them for treatment while seven were given first aid and discharged, he said.

Four of the most seriously injured were sent to Zila District Hospital Sukma, and two of those were further referred for hospital treatment in Jagdalpur, 62 miles away, he said. The two patients in Jagdalpur were discharged on Sunday (Nov. 29), though still in much pain, he said.

Several patients treated at the government hospital told Morning Star News their treatment was inadequate, as staff refused to take X-rays in spite of their serious injuries. They continued to remain in severe pain, they told Morning Star News through a translator.

“Madvi Madka was being taken to Lankapur in Odisha state to a private hospital for treatment on Dec. 2 and had even reached Malkangiri, Odisha, but the police inspector called us and insisted that he be called back and treated at the government hospital only,” Pastor Kosa told Morning Star News. “Now we are bringing him back. We do not know what to do. The injured are too scared to go to the government hospital for treatment.”

Portrayed as a ‘Brawl’

Madvi Bhima, brother of Madvi Muka, filed a First Information Report (FIR) on Nov. 25 against 16 identified assailants, and police registered a case under penal code sections for rioting, unlawful assembly, obscene acts, voluntarily causing hurt and criminal intimidation.

Attorney Amit Manwatkar, a volunteer for the Evangelical Fellowship of India’s Religious Liberty Commission, said police applied weak sections of the law, diminishing the seriousness of the attacks.

“A religiously motivated violent incident has been shown as a common brawl,” Manwatkar told Morning Star News.

Christians submitted a complaint to the district collector, superintendent of police and the local police station on Friday (Nov. 27) and met Sub-Inspector Ishwar Dhruv on Tuesday (Dec. 1) to express their fears of returning to the village.

Dhruv said officers arrested 16 people on Nov. 25-26 and released them on bail.

“In the present time, considering COVID, nobody is ready to keep them in jail,” Dhruv told Morning Star News. “We had not kept them in jail but had kept them in a secret place. We had got orders from above for the same.”

Special forces were deployed in the village for three days after the attacks, and he is patrolling the area every day, he said.

Dhruv denied that the assailants attempted to rape a Christian woman.

“Just because they are saying it, does not mean that the allegation is true,” he told Morning Star News. “They have to prove what they say.”

He also denied that injuries were serious.

“No ribs have been broken,” Dhruv said. “Ask them to show us the medical reports. We will add the relevant section in the FIR if such things have happened.”

District and police officials planned a meeting in the village for Wednesday (Dec. 2) to establish calm between the Christians and the tribal villagers. Eight of the attacked Christians went to the village to present their injuries before the administration along with medical reports, Pastor Kosa said.

“We got some X-Rays done from private laboratories and sent the reports with the Christians who have gone for the meeting,” he said.

Attorney Manwatkar said the villagers threatened to kill the Christians after they filed the police complaint, so about 25 Christians have taken refuge in Pastor Kosa’s house in another town, including the injured and their families.

“When we came to know about the need, we quickly contacted a local store and arranged for rations for 25 people to help them with food and daily needs,” Manwatkar said.

Other Christians have fled and taken refuge in the homes of brethren outside of the village. At this writing only four Christian families remained in Chingrwaram village, Pastor Kosa said.

He said he was grateful for the help received from the Evangelical Fellowship of India.

“They have helped with food expenses and other needs of the victims,” the pastor said.

Attacks Downplayed

Police appear keen to show that the attack resulted from a quarrel over the supposedly loud music at the dedication celebration, sources said.

Downplaying the attack, police officials have called it a clash in which only four people were injured. In the same vein, the chief minister of Chhattisgarh state has issued a plea “not to communalize the violence.”

There are other factors that indicate the attacks were religiously motivated “communal” violence. The assailants also attacked a Christian couple who were not even present at the dedication, breaking into their home, ransacking it and beating them, sources said.

The assailants beat another Christian who had gone to his field on the morning of Nov. 25 and was not present at the previous night’s function. The attackers searched for him and thrashed him, telling him they were beating him because he attends church, Mandavi said.

“There was another celebration on the same day in an adjoining village,” Mandavi said. “They had employed a DJ and were playing loud music throughout the night. We could hear the loud music all through the night as we were hiding in the jungle. The attackers seemed not disturbed at all by their loud music, but they attacked children [at the site of the dedication] who were playing songs from a single small speaker. It was an attack on us because of our faith and not because of sound.”

The village has only 15 homes that are Christian.

Trend of Violence

Attacks on Christians in Chhattisgarh and have become more frequent and intense.

The Rev. Vijayesh Lal of the Evangelical Fellowship of India said that in the previous two years Chhattisgarh was not in the top five states where Christians were targeted.

“However, this year, 2020, things have changed,” he told Morning Star News. “In our half-yearly report highlighting atrocities on Christians, Chhattisgarh was at No. 2, following Uttar Pradesh, with 24 incidents. Attacks on Christians in the state especially in the Bastar area have been increasing.”

A fact-finding team of social and rights activists visited the Bastar region, which includes Sukma District, in October and concluded that attacks against Christians have increased there. Led by prominent activist Medha Patkar, the team included members of the Chhattisgarh Citizens for Joint Action Committee and the National Alliance of Peoples Movement.

National magazine Caravan in June highlighted persecution of Christians in Chhatttisgarh, describing how they have been pressured to reconvert to Hinduism and tribal religion.

“This trend is worrying, and if the government does not step in and protect religious minorities, uphold the law, and punish the offenders, it would be too late to prevent a large-scale attack against Christians in the state, particularly in the Bastar area,” Arun Pannalal, president of the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum, told Morning Star News. “Hindu, right-wing, fundamentalist organizations are behind this.”

Christians constitute 1.92 percent of the total population of the state, according to the 2011 Census.

India 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 been worse each year since Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.

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.

%d bloggers like this: