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Under-Reporting Obscures Martyrdom of Christians in India

Under-Reporting Obscures Martyrdom of Christians in India

Photo: Widow and children of Baishakhu Pahari

NEW DELHI (Morning Star News) – Four Christians in India died for their faith last year, but incomplete information obscured the anti-Christian hostility in three of the deaths, sources said.

In Tamil Nadu and West Bengal states where the killings took place, area Christians assert that the murders were rooted in opposition to Christianity; specifically, radical Hindus viewing Christianity as a threat to Hinduism and Indian nationalism as a unified identify. In three of the four deaths, however, under-reporting obscured the acts or motives of the attackers.

In India’s eastern state of West Bengal, where two brothers were hacked to death, villagers suspected the men’s wives were practicing witchcraft, according to local press accounts and area Christians. A mob in Palashpari village, near Malda, attacked 38-year-old Sonua Pahari and 32-year-old Baishakhu Pahari with swords, sickles, rods and stones as they lay sleeping in their homes on May 17 at 11 p.m. Area Christians and local press reported that the assailants believed the brothers’ wives had used witchcraft to inflict illness on members of the community.

Express News Service cited one police official as saying, “… they were killed due to belief in witchcraft,” and another who said one victim’s family “… believed in modern [medical] treatment, which made them unpopular in the village.”

In the version published by local press, the assailants were reportedly targeting their wives and ended up killing the men in the process.

Area Christians acknowledged that the two Christians’ families were not consulting the village magic-arts healer, and that the indignant shaman therefore had incited the villagers by telling them that the brothers or their wives were sorcerers responsible for ailments in the community.

The families had left the shaman and other local customs behind when they became Christians, they said.

“Enlightened by the gospel of Jesus Christ, their lifestyle had also become different, which caused jealousy among the villagers,” one source told Morning Star News.

Out of fear of hostile repercussions, Christian leaders had kept silent about the brothers’ faith as the primary cause of the mob’s rage, so their understanding did not appear in local press reports, area Christians said. But they later told Morning Star News that villagers several times had told the brothers to leave Christianity, and as a result of their refusal to do so the families were socially and economically shunned and prohibited from fetching water from the public well.

The nature of the attack demonstrated that the men’s faith was the root cause of the mob rage, they said. The mob dragged the brothers from their house, attacking their wives and children only when they tried to rescue them from the assailants, they said. One brother’s wife was injured in the attack, while the other’s escaped with her children.

Sonua Pahari’s son witnessed what happened. He told a Christian leader from the area that the mob mocked the two brothers.

“The elder brother, Sonua Pahari, was kneeling and holding his Bible, but the extremists took it from him and threw it away,” the Christian leader said, based on the witness of Sonua Pahari’s son. “They first cut both his hands with a knife and mocked, ‘Where is your God? Call your God to help you.’ Sonua replied, ‘It is my God’s will that I will live or that I will die.’ He did not run at all or seem frightened. Then they killed him and his younger brother.”

The mob struck the heads of the brothers with their traditional weapons, and they died on the spot, the Christian leader said. Since the attack, none of the area Christians has undertaken any ministry in the area, he added; fear that a similar fate may befall them has paralyzed active faith. The brothers’ widows have since moved to another area.

“It is truly a case of martyrdom,” the Christian leader said. “Once when we filmed the 2008 Orissa anti-Christian violence, Sonua Pahari told his wife that he will also be killed in the same way for Christ, and that his death will draw people towards Christ. Both brothers were humble and strong followers of Christ.”

Most of the mob members have fled and are in hiding, but police arrested Bhola Bihari, Tofa Pahari and Fagu Pahari in connection with the murder.

Tamil Nadu

A month later in Tamil Nadu, in the southern-most eastern part of the nation, Hindu extremists attacked a predominantly Christian village, causing one death while the assailants and police insisted the 55-year-old man died of natural causes.

Pastor Samuel Ramachandran of the Immanuel Prayer House told Morning Star News that armed extremists led by Super Anjedan, village head in Vanagiri Sirkali Talug, Nagapattinam, on the evening of June 23 looted and destroyed four homes because of the owners’ faith in Christ. The attack wounded 15 Christians, two seriously, Jesurai Kaliaperumal and Rajendran Mahaligam.

Rajendran Mahaligam’s father, a 55-year-old Christian who went by the single name of Mahalingam, was traumatized by the attack on his son and others and went into some form of shock in which he lost consciousness, possibly including cardiac arrest, Pastor Ramachandran told Morning Star News. The elder Mahaligam died the next day (June 24) while his son still lay on his hospital bed.

Pastor Ramachandran said the Hindu extremists threatened to kill anyone who tried to attend to the corpse. Police and Hindu extremists reported that Mahalingam died of natural causes, while Christians insisted that the attack was responsible for the “natural causes.” If Mahaligam did not die for his faith, they say, he died as a result of an attack on the Christian faith.

The attack came after the district administration had tried unsuccessfully to broker a reconciliation meeting between the Christians and irate Hindu nationalists, and a state minister had visited to request that the Christians not be disturbed. After the state minister left, the Hindu nationalists attacked with swords and wooden rods, sources said. Terrified Christians rushed out of their homes, and most of them fled.

A previous attack had taken place on June 21, when a large group of Hindu extremists had visited the village, where about 30 of the 40 resident families were Christians, and declared a social and economic boycott against them. They ordered them to stop worshiping Christ, the sources said. The assailants had reportedly issued a similar threat a month earlier.

Christians had contacted the Poompuhar police station and registered a case, but no action was taken, area Christians said.

India’s population is 74.3 percent Hindu, 14.2 percent Muslim, 1.9 percent Sikh, 0.82 percent Buddhist, and 5.8 percent Christian, according to Operation World.

Edwin Raj

Also in Tamil Nadu, widespread church protests over the killing of a Christian left no doubt that he had died for his faith.

A group of Hindu extremists on Aug. 26 went on a rampage from a house-church gathering in one village to a Christian-owned business in a nearby town, where they killed the Christian son of the shop owner, a church official told Morning Star News.

Hindu extremists first stormed the home worship of a Church of South India (CSI) gathering in Sathancodu village, near Nadaikavu, Kanyakumari, after smashing the windshield of a Christian’s car parked outside.

“I was conducting a prayer meeting when suddenly the armed Hindu extremists barged in, accused me of forceful conversion and physically attacked us,” said a pastor who goes by the single name of Yeshudas.

The homeowner, a Christian who goes by the single name of Gnanamuthu, went out of the house and tried to stop other extremists from doing more harm, but the assailants struck him with a wooden club, cracking his skull, one of the 15 Christians in attendance told Morning Star News. They beat the homeowner as well as his son, Johnson Gnanamuthu. The two Christians were later admitted to a local hospital, and eventually they reported the assault at the Nithiravilai Police Station.

The furious extremists then ran on to Nadaikavu, attacking Christians they found on their way, sources said. About 15 Hindu nationalists rampaged through the town and tried to destroy the shop of a Christian who had attended the prayer meeting, Jaya Rajan. His son, 35-year-old Edwin Raj, came out of his shop and tried to stop them, and the gang struck him so fiercely that he died on the way to Thiruvananthapuram Government Medical College, according to the Rev. Deva Kadasham, moderator of the CSI.

Police registered a case against C. Dharmaraj, district president of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, and six others. More than 1,000 policemen were deployed in the area.

Some 150 churches in various towns in Tamil Nadu hoisted black flags in protest on Sept. 9, including the areas of Nagercoil, Arumanai, Manjalumoodu, Melpuram, Chitharal, Karode, Kuttaicode and Melparai , reported The Hindu.

Besides registering a case against Dharmaraj, police have arrested five persons in connection with the attack so far, reported a representative of CSI, Vibin John.

The BJP condemned the inclusion of the party’s district head in the First Information Report regarding the murder of Raj, staging a protest by blocking some roads of the district, and police arrested 751 BJP members, including the state president, Pon. Radhakrishnan, The Hindu reported.

There were 11 cases of religious rights violations against Christians in Tamil Nadu in 2012, according to the Evangelical Fellowship of India. That figure was the fifth highest behind Karnataka with 37; Chhattisgarh with 21; Madhya Pradesh with 18; and Andhra Pradesh with 13.

c. 2013 Morning Star News. Used with permission.

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Publication date: January 30, 2013