India: Christian pastor killed, 20 injured in clashes over land dispute

Christians pray as others take confession during Good Friday prayer services on April 10, 2009, in the village of Raikia, south of Bhubaneswar, India.
Christians pray as others take confession during Good Friday prayer services on April 10, 2009, in the village of Raikia, south of Bhubaneswar, India. | Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

A Christian pastor was killed in northeastern India when a dispute over a plot of land turned violent. 

According to the Times of India, Pastor Thanjalal of Aimol Chingunghut village was seriously injured, along with about 20 others, when tensions over land in Manipur’s Tengnoupal district turned physical on Saturday evening. 

The outlet reports that tension escalated when a group attacked several individuals playing football on a plot of land between two villages in the district. Both villages have reportedly claimed the plot, causing discord between the two groups.

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Pastor Thanjalal was reportedly “seriously injured” as clashes between the opposing villages heightened. The pastor was taken to a local hospital, where he later died. 

Manipur Director General of Police LM Khaute told the Times that police forces were deployed to the area and claimed efforts are being made to arrest those responsible for the pastor’s death. 

Police also told the outlet that “other precautionary measures and steps to restore peace are being initiated.” 

Though it is unclear how the pastor became involved in the dispute, persecution of Christians has escalated in Manipur, where Hindus make up the majority of the population. Christians follow closely behind, making up nearly half of the region’s population. 

Last year, leaders in Itam Nungoi village in Manipur’s Imphal East district published a “leaflet” advising villagers on which religion they should follow. 

The leaflets warned that anyone found following a religion other than Hinduism or what their ancestors followed, would face social ostracization and banishment, according to the New Indian Express.  

Additionally, a local village pastor was driven out of the village for his evangelistic efforts.

Earlier in September, India canceled six Christian organizations’ licenses to receive donations from outside the country. The Evangelical Churches Association of Manipur was among the organizations that saw their licenses canceled.

John Prabhudoss, chairman of the Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America, told The Christian Post that curtailing the flow of foreign money to Christian organizations is “blackmail” on the part of the governing Bharatiya Janata Party, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, “in expectations of a payday.”

“A government action like the one taken against these Christian institutions is taken against those who receive substantial amounts of donations/investments from overseas,” he explained. 

“Then intermediaries get involved offering to resolve the issue with the government. Those intermediaries will name their price. Once the amount is paid, they will clear the institution of all wrongdoing. Then officially they will restore the ability of these institutions to receive funds from overseas. These ‘donations’ are paid to the party funds or affiliates of the BJP party.”

Persecution watchdog group Open Doors USA notes that since Modi and his Hindu nationalist BJP party rose to power in 2014, India’s Christian minority has faced increasing persecution from Hindu militant groups. 

According to Open Doors, converts to Christianity from a Hindu background are especially vulnerable to persecution and are constantly under pressure to return to Hinduism. Often, Christian converts are physically assaulted and sometimes killed. 

In India, Hindus see Christians as a threat to the nation because of their growth in numbers and their strong presence in the tribal regions.

The country is ranked at No. 10 on Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of the countries where it's most difficult to be a Christian. 

Amid increasing persecution, 14 U.S. senators signed a letter asking Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to consider the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom’s recommendation to designate India a Country of Particular Concern. 

In the letter, primarily endorsed by the Coalition to Stop Genocide in India, the senators demanded that “targeted sanctions” be imposed against Indian agencies and officials responsible for escalating religious intolerance and violence.

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