Five masked men stabbed a 50-year-old pastor to death in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh. While police are blaming it on extreme communists, Christians suspect he was murdered by Hindu nationalists, according to reports.
The unidentified men broke into the house of Pastor Yallam Shankar, dragged him out and stabbed him to death in Bijapur district’s Angampalli village, the U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern reported Saturday, adding that the pastor is survived by his wife, two sons and grandchildren.
India’s PTI news agency suggested that Maoists, or extreme communists, killed him on suspicion that he was a police informer.
“As per preliminary information, a group of suspected armed Naxals entered the house of local pastor Yallam Shankar, and dragged him out. They attacked him with sharp-edged weapons, killing him on the spot,” an official was quoted as saying.
The official added that a Maoist group left a handwritten note to claim responsibility for the murder.
However, a local group called Progressive Christian Alliance of Chhattisgarh, said in a statement that Christians in Angampalli village had received death threats by Hindu nationalist groups.
The group added that anyone can use the name of a Maoist group to mislead the investigation.
Pastor Shankar, a former village head, was the Senior Pastor of Bastar for Christ Movement Church, ICC said, adding that he was influential and known for defending Christians from the radical Hindu nationalists.
“The Christians in this area have been facing intense opposition from the radical Hindu nationalists,” a local Christian was quoted as saying. “Several times Pastor Shankar defended Christians from radical Hindu nationalists, and that could be the reason for this extreme form of persecution of killing.”
Local Christians also said that two days before the murder, radical Hindu nationalists had threatened the pastor, saying they would kill him if he continued to preach.
Open Doors USA, which monitors Christian persecution in over 60 countries, has reported that persecution against Christians and other religious minorities has increased in India since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party took power at the federal level in 2014.
For India’s Christians, 2021 was the “most violent year” in the country’s history, according to a report by the United Christian Forum, which recorded at least 486 violent incidents of Christian persecution in the year.
The UCF attributed the high incidence of Christian persecution to “impunity,” due to which “such mobs criminally threaten, physically assault people in prayer, before handing them over to the police on allegations of forcible conversions.”
Police registered formal complaints in only 34 of the 486 cases, according to the UCF.
“Often communal sloganeering is witnessed outside police stations, where the police stand as mute spectators,” the UCF report states.
“Hindu extremists believe that all Indians should be Hindus and that the country should be rid of Christianity and Islam,” an Open Doors fact sheet explains. “They use extensive violence to achieve this goal, particularly targeting Christians from a Hindu background. Christians are accused of following a ‘foreign faith’ and blamed for bad luck in their communities.”
Christians make up only 2.3% of India’s population and Hindus comprise about 80%.