India: Christian father who refused to renounce faith beaten into coma

Christians meet near their rebuilt church in Kandhamal. In 2008, almost every church in the area was destroyed by Hindu nationalists. | John Fredricks

A Christian father in India was beaten into a coma by tribal animists angered by his dedication to sharing the Gospel with villagers amid worsening persecution in the country. 

Morning Star News reports that on March 12, a mob of 60 villagers in Odisha state’s Kodalmetla village, Malkangiri District, stormed the home of 30-year-old Kama Sodi, his wife, and their two young children. 

The animist mob, worshipers of the gods of their tribal religion, beat Kama with wooden sticks until he fell unconscious, his wife, Bhimeshwari Sodi, said.

“The children and I tried to wake him up — we thought he had fainted — but there was no response,” she said. “We cried out for help, but there was nobody to help us. The neighbors said that he was dead. ...They went on until they were sure that he shattered on the floor and stopped responding.”

Christian leaders arrived to find Kama still lying unconscious, his family around him weeping, pastor Timuthiyus Elijah told Morning Star News.

Local pastors arranged for Kama to be taken to the Malkangiri Government Hospital. Despite falling into a coma as a result of the beating, the Christian man regained consciousness after several days. 

Doctors told Bhimeshwari that her husband had blood clots in his brain and would need extra care at home and should not return to work until he fully recovered. Bhimeshwari said she spent her last 2,000 rupees (U.S. $26) on medicines and enough food to feed the children for the week they spent at the hospital.

She had hoped to work extra hours at others’ fields to sustain the family while he recovered, but soon after his release from the hospital, the government announced a lockdown on March 22 to contain the novel coronavirus, she said.

“By the time we reached home, most of our belongings which the assailants had thrown outside our home were missing,” she said. “Mud had piled up on food grains they threw out.”

“Nobody wants to offer us work, and we are happy with whatever God provides us,” she added. “I’m washing the mud off the few food grains I could gather from the floor and am cooking them for the children. My husband and I are having whatever leftovers there are once a day. The rest of the time, we would prefer to starve. If the children eat and go to sleep, we would be contented in that.”

Tribal animists had previously attacked the family, threatening to kill Kama unless he renounced his faith. 

“They were beating him very brutally,” his wife recalled. “Even while suffering in their hands, my husband refused to give up his faith. They declared that they would allow a chance for him to live if he declared that he had renounced Christ. But my husband declined their offer and chose to suffer.”

After hearing the Gospel from an area pastor several years ago, Kama immediately put his faith in Christ, his wife said.

“He started sharing with me also about Jesus Christ, and I had also put my belief in Him,” she recalled. 

Pastor Elijah said that Kama shared the Gospel with other villagers, and three families became Christian, upsetting tribal animists.

“They had opposed us for conducting worship in Kodelmetla village, and even today the village does not have a church,” he said. “The three Christian families travel about 9 miles (15 kilometers) to the church in Erbanpally.”

Because of their faith, the family is socially and economically ostracized by their community. Despite persecution, they remain at their home in Bhimeshwari’s ancestral village.

“My husband and I close the doors and pray quietly; we are not afraid of tomorrow,” Bhimeshwari said. “We are socially banished from this village and have been treated as untouchables. They do not allow us to even walk on the road, and they believe that if we walk on it, it would be defiled. But our Lord is with us. We are seeking comfort in spending time with Lord Jesus.”

India is listed on Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List as the 10th most difficult place to live as a Christian. Since the beginning of 2020, there has been a dramatic escalation in attacks on Christians and false accusations of forced religious conversions. 

International Christian Concern notes that Hindu radicals seeking to justify harassment and assault often accuse Christian leaders and evangelists of forcefully converting individuals to Christianity. Local police often overlook this harassment due to the false accusation of forced conversion.

According to India’s own population data, the conspiracy of mass conversions to Christianity does not hold up, ICC adds. "In 1951, the first census after independence, Christians made up only 2.3% of India’s overall population. According to the 2011 census, the most recent census data available, Christians still only make up 2.3% of the population."

Pastor Ramesh Kumar, a church planter who leads house churches in 12 villages outside of Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, recently opened up about the deteriorating state of religious freedom in the country, revealing things are becoming “far more difficult” for Christians who almost daily encounter persecution for their faith. 

“Things have become far more difficult for pastors like me,” he said. “Almost daily, I encounter a situation where I am asked to stop preaching the Gospel and recant my faith in Jesus.”

Pastor Kumar described several incidents of persecution he has experienced over the last several weeks. “Some days, it is only a mild warning,” he said, but “other times, it turns into a frightening physical assault.”

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