Tribal animists in central India threatened to beat and kill a 9-year-old Christian girl after driving her family into the jungle because they refused to renounce their faith in Jesus Christ.
Two days after tribal animists expelled the Christian family from Bilood village in Madhya Pradesh state and demolished their home, the wife of the primary assailant, identified as Laxman, stopped the girl as she returned from school to her makeshift refuge in the jungle.
The girls’ father, pastor Lalu Kirade, told Morning Star News: “Holding her by her hair, Laxman’s wife asked her how dare she enter the village. [She] told her that she cannot miss school as her annual examinations are taking place. But Laxman’s wife pulled my daughter’s hair and threatened her that she should not been seen in the village or she would be beaten to death.”
His daughter walked back to their jungle site crying the entire way, Kirade said.
“I cried before the Lord for hours, asking Him what the fault of my children was and why are they being treated this way,” he said, adding he does not feel comfortable reporting the attack to police.
“My children are studying in the government school of the village — I cannot risk their lives,” he said. “If I make a complaint with the police, the assailants will not spare my children.”
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.
“He [Laxman] was inebriated when he came to my house around 5 in the evening and began to question me about my faith,” Kirade said.
The villager harassed the family for about two hours with questions that insulted Christianity. After the pastor asked them to leave, they began to beat his 5-year-old son.
"I somehow rescued him,” Kirade said.
Two hours later, Laxman returned with a wooden rod and began to break items that lay outside the family’s home. Laxman’s wife and others from outside the village joined him, the pastor said, and began assaulting the family.
After beating the family, a mob began demolishing the Christians’ house. The pastor took his three boys, ages 5, 8 and 11, along with his daughter and parents, and escaped to the thick jungle about 1 mile away. His wife was away visiting her parents.
Kirade’s congregation later informed him that the assailants demolished his home and warned that if they saw him in the village again, they would kill him.
Later, the pastor received a phone call from Laxman offering him a safe return to the village and a promise to rebuild his house if he renounced Christ.
“Laxman told me that he is willing to help me build my house and restore everything back to normal, but I must renounce Christ and stop praying to Jesus,” the pastor told Morning Star News. “I told him that you broke my house because it was a worship place of the living God, but what you do not know is that wherever I build my house, God’s worship place will be established there. So I told him that I will not renounce Christ.”
Local officials have announced that if any villager associates with the Kirade family in any way, they will have to pay a fine, Khargone pastor Bhagirath Sisodiya said.
“Anybody who tries to help Lalu and his family with food, clothing, shelter or is even seen associating with them in any manner will have to pay a fine of 5,000 rupees [$67],” Sisodiya said.
The family is now living with a church member and is receiving assistance from the Evangelical Fellowship of India.
India is ranked as the 10th worst country when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Christian support organization Open Doors USA’s 2020 World Watch List.
Christian persecution has steadily increased across India since the election of President Narendra Modi in 2014 and the rise of his Bharatiya Janata Party, which is the political arm of the Hindu nationalist organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
In December, tribal animists in eastern India surrounded a church building with axes, threatened to kill Christians within and later burned down the thatched-roof structure.