India: Tribal animists beat Christians for refusing to renounce faith, sacrifice animals

Demonstrators shout slogans as they hold placards during a protest outside a church in New Delhi, India, February 5, 2015. Hundreds of Christian protesters clashed with police in India's capital on Thursday as they tried to press demands for better government protection amid concern about rising intolerance after a series of attacks on churches. | (Photo: Reuters/Anindito Mukherjee)

A large mob of tribal animists in India brutally beat Christians who refused to comply with their demands to sacrifice their animals to tribal deities and renounce their faith. 

Morning Star News reports that in March, a mob of around 120 villagers led by tribal leaders in Metapal village in Dantewada District showed up at Santuram Markam’s home with their demands. Animists worship gods based on ancestors, spirits, and nature.

“The village council summoned us to a meeting demanding we bring a goat, pig, hen, coconut, incense sticks and cash of 5,000 rupees (US $66) as sacrificial offerings to the tribal deities,” Markam told Morning Star News.

When they refused to give in to their demands, the mob again barged into Markam’s home the next night (March 31) and started beating his aged parents, he said.

“I escaped from there and have run into the woods,” he said. “I will go back only after knowing about the situation there at home. I am very scared to back home now. They beat us yesterday, and they came again today. My Christian neighbor Raju Podiyami and his family also came under attack today.”

Superintendent of Police of Dantewada District Abhishek Pallava reportedly told the outlet that because police were exhausted from working extra hours due to the coronavirus, they were unable to address the situation in a timely manner. 

“I will try to make peace between the groups over the phone,” Pallava told Morning Star News at that time. “Nobody can reach there now. All the police force has been working day and nights because of coronavirus. It is a Naxalite (Maoist rebel) area, we cannot take risks by sending forces without any preparation.”

That same month, animists kidnapped Markam’s neighbor, Podiyami, from his home and locked him in a hut as they drank liquor throughout the night, area pastor Sushil Sangam told Morning Star News.

After cutting through the thatched roof and escaping, Podiyami took his family of eight, injured from the previous day’s attacks, and sought refuge at Pastor Sangam’s church site in Tokapal village, Bastar District, the pastor said.

Speaking to Morning Star News, Son Singh Jhali, a lawyer allied with legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom India, said that currently, farmers in tribal villages are preparing the soil, which involves sacrificial offerings to tribal deities, with the village council collecting funds and animals to be offered.

“But Christians refuse to partake in this ritual,” Jhali said. “This has been the one main reason for the spike in violent attacks against Christians amid lockdown.”

Last week, it was reported that animists in Bastar District, Chhattisgarh, told five Christian families they would lose their harvest lands unless they returned to their tribal religion. When the Christians refused, they were beaten. 

That same day, residents of Naktoka village in Bastar District who follow a mix of tribal religion and Hinduism threatened to kill Christians if they tried to give a Christian burial for one of their dead in the community graveyard.

In April, after demolishing a pastor’s house and driving his family into the jungle, tribal animists in central India severely beat the Christian leader and threatened to destroy his vocal cords so he could no longer preach. 

India is ranked 10th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The outlet notes that converts to Christianity from Hindu backgrounds or tribal religions are often extremely persecuted by their family members and communities.

In a report released in April, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended that the State Department add India to its list of countries that engage in or tolerate egregious violations of religious freedom.

“India took a sharp downward turn in 2019,” the USCIRF report reads.

In addition to the CPC designation, USCIRF calls on the U.S. to “impose targeted sanctions” on Indian government agencies and officials responsible for violations of religious freedom by freezing their assets and barring them entry into the U.S.

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