A mob of some 200 Hindu nationalists attacked a house church during its worship service in India’s eastern state of Chhattisgarh, injuring the pastor and at least two other Christians and forcibly converting a Christian woman to Hinduism, according to a report.
The mob, apparently led by a man identified as Sanjith Ng, assaulted the Christians in a church in Odagoan village in Chhattisgarh’s Kondagaon District on Sunday, the U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern reported.
Sanjith Ng barged into the house where the worship service was underway and beat Pastor Hemanth Kandapan and a member of the congregation, identified as Sankar Salam, ICC said, adding that the man then dragged the pastor out of the house where more than 200 people had gathered.
The mob brutally beat the pastor and Salam, claiming they were illegally converting Hindus to Christianity. The pastor and the congregant sustained severe internal injuries and had to be hospitalized.
The mob threatened the Christians, saying they would be killed if they continued to hold prayers in the village.
“I was under house arrested for nearly nine hours,” Pastor Kandapan was quoted as saying. “All through that time I was hackled and abused by the mob even in the presence of the police.”
On Monday, leaders of the Hindu nationalist group Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) forced the Christians to participate in a religious ceremony where a Christian woman, named Sunderi Bathi, was forcibly converted to Hinduism.
“The situation in the village is still tense,” Pastor Kandapan said.
“We do not know how long these families will have to stay out of their homes,” he added, referring to five families that had fled the village.
Kondagaon is a tribal-majority district.
Attacks against tribal Christians have increased since radical Hindu groups launched a campaign in 2020 to stop the country’s tribal, or indigenous, people from converting to Christianity. These groups have been demanding that the government ban those who convert from receiving education and employment opportunities.
Most tribals do not identify as Hindus; they have diverse religious practices and many worship nature. However, the government’s Census deems them to be Hindu.
In September 2020, tribal villagers vandalized 16 houses belonging to Christians from the same tribe in three separate attacks, forcing most of the Christian women in those villages to flee into jungles for safety at the time.
Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014, attacks on Christians have increased and intensified.
While Christians make up only 2.3% of India’s population and Hindus comprise about 80%, there has been an uptick in radical Hindu nationalist attacks on religious minorities.
The watchdog group Open Doors USA, which monitors persecution in over 60 countries, reports that “Hindu radicals often attack Christians with little to no consequences.”
“Hindu extremists believe that all Indians should be Hindus and that the country should be rid of Christianity and Islam,” an Open Doors fact sheet on India explains. “They use extensive violence to achieve this goal, particularly targeting Christians from a Hindu background. Christians are accused of following a ‘foreign faith’ and blamed for bad luck in their communities.”
For India’s Christians, 2021 was the “most violent year” in the country’s history, according to a report. At least 486 violent incidents of Christian persecution were reported in the year.