India: Tribal animists beat pastor, threaten to destroy vocal cords to halt further evangelism

School children listen to a speech by a Christian leader during a protest rally in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata August 29, 2008. | (Photo: Reuters/Jayanta Shaw)

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

Nearly a month after tribal animists expelled the Christian family from Bilood village in Madhya Pradesh state and destroyed their home, tribal animists ambushed Pastor Lalu Kirade as he returned from a grocery store. 

Led by a man identified only as Laxman, seven individuals beat, choked, and pelted the pastor with a stone, Kirade told Morning Star News.

“They had sprung on me like a pack of wild dogs,” the pastor recalled. “They told me to call upon my God to come and rescue me.”

“My head began to spin with the sudden strike. Blood started to ooze out of the injury, and I fell on the ground. I heard the men shouting at Laxman’s wife for hitting me with a stone. They said they had planned to hit me in a way that I would not bleed. They scolded the women for not doing as planned.”

Laxman’s niece put her foot on his throat, choking him, as the others held down his hands and legs so he could not move, he said.

“I was gasping for breath and thought that I would die,” Kirade said, adding that Laxman’s niece said, “Call upon your God for help. You pray and preach using your vocal cords, I am going to bring an end to your voice today.”

The assailants hit and kicked him, pulled his ears, dragged him by the hair and uttered profanity about Christianity and Christ, the pastor said, besides robbing him of rupees equivalent to $51.

“The money was given to me as help during this [new coronavirus] lockdown period – it was all that I and my family had to survive upon,” Kirade said.

A passer-by from Bilood village saw the assault and informed local Christians, who arrived at the scene “just in time,” prompting the assailants to flee, Kirade said.

Following the assault, the pastor was left with severe internal injuries and required stitches on his head wound.

“I had swelling on my neck for weeks and could not eat solid food for three days because of pain in my throat,” he said.

In March, a group of tribal animists — also led by Laxman — forced the family out of their home and into the nearby jungle. 

According to the pastor, animists, who worship gods based on ancestors, spirits, and nature, entered his property a few days earlier and told the Christians they would be expelled unless they abandoned Christianity. 

When they refused, tribal animists continued to persecute the family, even threatening to kill the pastor’s 9-year-old daughter. 

Though Kirade initially had refrained from going to the police, fearing it would prompt another attack, local Christian leaders persuaded him to do so. As the animists beat the pastor, they asked him why he had approached police, he said.

“They insisted that I immediately revoke my police complaint,” he said, adding that they also rebuked him for reporting the attack on his 9-year-old daughter to school authorities.

However, no action followed the complaint he had filed in March at Pandhana police station about the first assault, which led to the assailants having no hesitation to attack him again this month, the pastor said. A second complaint the pastor filed at Jhirniya police station in Khargone District was also ignored, he revealed.

“If only the police would have taken action on my previous complaint, Laxman and his family would not have dared to attack me again,” he said.

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. 

In a report released Tuesday morning, 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.

According to the report, violence against Christians in India increased in 2019 and there were at least 328 reported incidents of Christian persecution in 2019. The commission said attacks “frequently targeted prayer services and led to the widespread shuttering or destruction of churches.”

Last year, the Christian group ADF India reported that there were at least 1,000 incidents of Christian persecution in India between 2014 and 2015. Thus far in 2020, the United Christian Forum in India reports that there were 56 threats against Christians and 78 incidents of violence between January and March of 2020, including mob attacks on religious leaders, Christians and churches. 

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

In addition to the CPC designation, the 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.

In a statement made available to The Christian Post, the Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations (FIACONA) thanked the USCIRF for “for recognizing the grave downward spiral of affairs in India despite India being a democratic nation.”

“I am worried that the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities continues even during the Coronavirus lockdown and I am very disappointed with Prime Minister Modi for not condemning such behavior of his party cadre forcefully,” FIACONA President Koshy George said. 

“I thank the USCIRF for recognizing the real state of affairs on the ground in India and India’s downward trend in upholding democratic traditions.”

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