Hindu extremists in Andhra Pradesh, India, brutally beat an elderly pastor and verbally abused his wife amid escalating tension over the presence of a Christian church in their community.
Morning Star News reports that Pastor Eswara Rao Appalabattula was attacked by a group of Hindu extremists after he pleaded with them to stop building a wall meant to block people from attending worship services at his home in L.B. Patnam village, Andhra Pradesh.
“They wanted to build a wall right in front of the church and ban us from using the path,” Appalabattula told Morning Star News. “I pleaded with them to not do so. But the group of at least six neighbors, both male and female, punched me in my stomach several times and pushed me to the floor.”
They picked up a wooden pole and started beating his hands repeatedly with it, he said. Doctors later told him his hand had been fractured.
“I was lying there on the floor screaming for help,” he said. “My wife came running and begged them to stop beating me — it was traumatic.”
That same month, a Hindu priest led a group of extremists to the pastor’s home, where they threatened to kill his wife, Karuna Appalabattula, as she was doing chores outside.
“I did not go to fight with them but I was panicked,” Karuna Appalabattula told Morning Star News. “I did not know what to do. I asked them, ‘What is this you are doing? Why are you after us?’”
The Hindu priest picked up a large log of wood and came running toward her, she said.
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“He kept screaming that he would kill me,” she said. “I was crying for help. But their priest abused me in extremely foul language. They called me names they would never use for a mother, wife, sister or any female member of their families. He called me a Christian prostitute and warned me that he would kill my husband.”
When the pastor informed a police official of the abuse his family had endured, he was told to resolve the matter himself.
“They told me that, ‘Your God has to protect you — when your God is not protecting you from your attackers, what can we do staying here?’” the pastor said. “I told them that it was my God who had been protecting me, if not I would not have been alive in front of you.”
The Hindu extremists were reportedly angered by the presence of a church in their village and intimidated worshipers to discourage them from gathering. Pastor Appalabattula said the Hindu villagers had stopped worshipers from coming to services throughout January.
“They would threaten and abuse them in foul language and not let them even park their motorbikes in the area,” he said. “Even before they stop at the church, they are chased and sent away.”
“My wife and I witnessed drug and alcohol addicts, and the sick, come to Christ, and then they had refused to be a part of Hindu rituals in the village.”
Because of the ongoing persecution, youths and Christians from neighboring villages who used to come to their home daily for worship and hours of fellowship are too fearful to come now, the pastor said.
“They were like our own children,” she said. “I would prepare meals and feed them. We sang and worshiped together … We both are very old and weak and are in need of prayers and support.”
Pastor Appalabattula said they are going through a very difficult time.
“I am ready to die for Christ. But the ministry we had started here has come to a sudden halt,” he said. “Not even four members are gathering for Sunday worship. The believers have been very scared, and nobody dares to come and see us.”
India is ranked 10th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
Over 1,400 incidents of persecution against Christians in India have been reported since the year Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party rose to power, according to an initiative of ADF India.
Recently, it was reported that Hindu extremists in southern India beat Christian children during a worship service before filing a false police complaint against the congregation.
International Christian Concern, an advocacy organization based outside of Washington, D.C., said it often receives reports of rapes, communal violence, forced conversion charges and other abuses committed against Christians in the Hindu-majority country.
“Cases such as these are becoming commonplace in India and are largely fueled by rhetoric of BJP and other [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] officials,” ICC Advocacy Director Matias Perttula said. “They show a clear indication of the decline of religious freedom and an increase in the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities.”