India: Tribal animists brutally beat pastor who refused to worship false gods

A religious cross is captured through some ornamental railings in the Fort Kochi area in the state of Kerala in South India.
A religious cross is captured through some ornamental railings in the Fort Kochi area in the state of Kerala in South India. | Getty Images

A pastor in India was brutally beaten by tribal animists angered by his refusal to contribute money toward the ritual worship of tribal deities — yet police refused to punish the assailants. 

In January, Pastor Lakshman Oraon, a convert from tribal deism to Christianity, was summoned by the elders of Jungur village, Latehar District in Jharkhand state, Morning Star News reports. The elders demanded that the pastor and other village Christians help fund the ritual worship of tribal deities. When he refused, they became angry. 

“Then they turned to me angrily, ‘Why you will not give money?’ and started abusing me in filthy language,” the pastor said. “I asked, ‘Why would I give money? When I don’t believe in the rituals or the deities, why would we give money for their worship/puja? It is hard-earned money, and we don’t spend it for rituals we don’t believe. And also, how does it make any difference, since I am also not partaking in any of the rituals?’”

When the pastor explained why Christians could not comply due to their faith, the animists, who worship gods based on ancestors, spirits, and nature, replied that his ancestors were tribal priests and that he was a “useless ingrate who adopted a foreign faith and must be taught a lesson.”

Tying Oraon's hands behind his back, the village leaders kicked him to the floor before the crowd of about 80 followers of tribal deities, he said. They also threatened to expel the Christians from the village. 

“A mob surrounded me and, one after the other, they took turns to kick me on my back, on my head and punched my face,” Oraon told Morning Star News. “The beatings continued for more than an hour. They locked the village council premises, threatening the Christians that if they took any photo or video or tried to venture out from the spot or attempted to contact police, the phones will be seized, and the persons will also face the same fate.

“They told us that one after the other they will beat us all up to death.”

Despite persecution, the pastor said he was not “angry,” taking comfort in Matthew 5:11-12, which reads, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

“I received great strength from these words. There was a smile on my face all through,” he said.

Eventually, the mob released the pastor. Seeking justice, the Christians sent petitions to the Station House Officer (SHO) at Manika police station, the police superintendent, and the district collector. The SHO called both parties to the police station and “effected a compromise that we would not file any case against them, and that they will not excommunicate us from the village,” the pastor said. 

At the police station, the tribal leaders continued demanding funds for the rituals, and the SHO told the Christians to hand over the money, thinking that would resolve the matter, Oraon said.

“At the police station, we were asked to give the money, and we gave it,” he said. “We are praying for the salvation of village leaders and the devotees of tribal deities. The police assured us that they will be a phone call away if any problem arises, and that we will not face any troubles from the villagers after giving the money.”

Asked about the harassment of Christians in Jungur village, the SHO of Manika police station denied the mob assault, saying, “no such incident took place.” 

A recent report from Human Rights Watch warned that prejudices embedded in the government of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party have increasingly “infiltrated independent institutions,” such as the police and the courts, “empowering nationalist groups to threaten, harass, and attack religious minorities with impunity.”

India is ranked No. 10 on Open Door USA’s World Watch List of 50 countries where it's most difficult to be a Christian.

Open Doors notes that those who convert to Christianity are accused of following a “foreign faith” and blamed for bad luck in their communities. 

“These believers are often physically attacked and sometimes killed,” says Open Doors. “If they do not 're-convert,' they may be boycotted by their community, with a devastating effect on their ability to earn income. Many believers are isolated and don’t know any other Christians.”

Last year, India denied entry visas to representatives of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, who had planned to investigate reports of persecution of Muslims and Christians following the release of its report that designates India as a “Country of Particular Concern.”

In a statement to The Christian Post, advocacy group The Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America said at the time it was “deeply disappointed” India did not receive the CPC designation in 2020.

“The national government allowed violence against minorities and their houses of worship to continue with impunity and engaged in and tolerated hate speech and incitement to violence,” FIACONA said. “The Indian government headed by the Hindu nationalist BJP party continues to claim so conveniently that all such violence against Christians in India is isolated incidents and not the policy of the government.”

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