By BosNewsLife Asia Service
NEW DELHI, INDIA (BosNewsLife)-- Church leaders in India's eastern state of Jharkhand say the murder of a Lutheran pastor by suspected Hindu militants marks a new chapter in an ongoing crackdown on devoted Christians in the region. The body of Pastor Abraham Soreng of Goosner Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jharkand's Khunti district was reportedly found with several injuries on May 6. His funeral was held the next day in nearby Kadma village.
Police say however that questions remain over who slit the pastor's throat and threw his body near a local railway over-bridge. The Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) agency quoted investigating police officer Ranveer Singh, who examined the body, as agreeing with Christian officials that "the murder appears to be the result of a conspiracy".
Investigators said he was found near the local Rourkela railway over-bridge where he had been with another person and that his identity had been established based on his mobile phone which had fallen from a pocket.
The murder followed several reported attacks against Christians in Jharkhand, ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. Kunti, a Christian stronghold district, has specifically been a target of violent incidents by Hindu militants as about 25 percent of its 532,000 people are Christians, according to church sources.
ACT OF VIOLENCE
"Any act of violence is condemnable, when it comes to a religious person, it is more condemnable," said Auxiliary Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas of the state capital Ranchi, secretary-general of the Indian Catholic bishops' conference. "Efforts are underway to polarize the population in the state, which is not going to help anybody," he added in published remarks.
Jharkhand, with a population of 33 million people, now has some 1.4 million Christians, most of whom are indigenous people or those belonging to the Dalits, viewed as the 'lowest' cast in India's ancient system of Hinduism, according to church estimates.
The state's 4.5 percent Christian population is almost double that of the national average, UCAN said.
Indian media reported several instances of attacks against pastors, churches being destroyed and of Hindu groups beating tribal Christians, and threatening to kill them if they do not renounce Christ. And, Hindu militants have reportedly tried to force Christians out of the villages and banned missionaries from several areas.
Jharkhand, created in 2000 from tribal-dominated areas of Bihar state, is home to a vibrant, mostly tribal Christian community, according to church observers.
Hindu groups have accused Christians of luring poor villagers to Christianity with material offers and have reiterated the party's demand for laws to check conversions to Christianity.
Especially evangelical Christians have denied forced conversions, saying the Bible makes clear that people have a free choice to follow Jesus Christ.
Christian leader and activist Subhash Kongari, regional vice president of the Rashtriya Isai Mahasangh, or 'National Christian Forum' group told media that the murder was the "outcome of a deep rooted conspiracy against Christians" in the state.
He said the region suffers of "organized crimes against Christians" orchestrated by Hindu groups who are trying to turn make India a Hindu theocratic state.