BosNewsLife Asia Service with BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
NEW DELHI, INDIA (BosNewsLife)-- Christians in central India have begun the New Year in mourning and with concerns about their future after a grandmother was apparently stripped naked, beaten to death and her body burned because her Christian faith was "disturbing the peace" in her village. The incident in the remote village of Dokawaya was the latest in a series of recent incidents in India's Chhattisgarh state, which included the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl.
World Watch Monitor (WWM), the news agency of advocacy group Open Doors, cited local sources as saying that Samari Kasabi, 55, was dragged out of her home by hostile fellow villagers, after they realized she was all alone.
They reportedly went to Kasabi's home asking for her son Sukura. When she told them he was out, they allegedly dragged her outside, pulled off all her clothes, and beat her to death. They then burnt her body a few hundred metres from her house, Christians said.
Her son was quoted as saying that he couldn't find his mother but that while searching near her house, he eventually found bloodstains and a bag with the clothes she had worn the previous day. Eventually neighbors told told him what happened.
He reported the October 16 incident to police who detained village chief and soon after four other villagers, Christians said. It remained unclear clear when and if they would face a trial amid local and international concern over the judiciary system in several parts of India.
Rights activists said that some of the villagers had complained about Sukura's family to local Naxalites -- militant communists operating in India who are known to have murdered Christians in the past. The villagers reportedly told the Naxalites that Sukura's family was "disturbing the peace" of the village and must be killed.
The Naxalites then abducted and detained Sukura and his family for three days, before letting them go, according to Christians familiar with the situation.
"The Naxalites told the villagers that we were innocent; that we were praying for the welfare of the community and not disturbing the peace," Sukura told WWM, adding that despite this locals continued to threaten the family.
Advocacy group Voice Of the Martyrs Canada (VOMC), which also follows the case, urged supporters to "Pray that the Lord will walk closely with this family as they continue to come to terms with their terrible loss."
It said it was crucial that "members of their church and others of the community be of great support and encouragement to them" and to "pray that this tragic death will not be in vain". VOMC said it hopes that "The testimony of Samari, her son Sukura, and their family, be used by the Holy Spirit to touch the hearts of many -- including the perpetrators -- leading them to eternal salvation through the provision of God's Son, Jesus, who willingly paid the price for their sins."
It was unclear whether villagers were inspired by a similar incident three days earlier when a 70-year-old woman was hacked to death allegedly by her 24-year-old grandson in Chhattisgarh’s Balodabazar-Bhatapara district on suspicion that she was practicing 'witchcraft'.
"Manoj Sarathi was arrested on charge of killing his grandmother Pilabai at Kodopali village under Bhilaigarh police station limits...," Balodabazar-Bhatapara Additional Superintendent of Police, Vimal Bais, told Indian media at the time.
Details of the recent incident against the Christian grandmother came amid wider concerns against Christians in the area, including in July when a 14-year-old Christian girl was raped and murdered. The scantily clad body of Sangeeta Siri – who did not return home from school – was found in a forest near Jattarbeda village, Kondagaon district, also in Chhattisgarh state.
Local Pastor A. K. Netam told reporters that was “a revenge attack for her not abandoning her [Christian] faith”. He explained that the girl’s family had become Christians 18 years ago but had been under pressure from local Hindu leaders to return to Hinduism.
In the same week three Christians were allegedly attacked for professing their faith in Christianity and had to be hospitalized. The assailants were also seen ransacking the Patels’ house. The attack came after Umesh was released on bail after receiving a six-month jail sentence for distributing Bibles in the state, which has a strict “anti-conversion law” backed by the hardline Hindu BJP party, Christians said.
Violent incidents against Christians were also reported in other BJP-run states in July including in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, where a Pentecostal pastor and a member of his congregation were abducted, tortured, arrested by police and denied bail by the court, said Tomson Thomas, coordinator for aid and advocacy group Persecution Relief.
Pastor Rampal Kori, 38, and Nand Lal, 49, were dragged out of a prayer meeting late July 21 in the Mauganj area of Rewa district where they were alleged tied to a tree, beaten with sticks, kicked and punched by an angry crowd who accused them of converting Hindus to Christianity, according to rights activists.
Police reportedly detained the Christians and imprisoned them the next morning on charges of "hurting Hindu religious sentiments and violating the provisions" of Madhya Pradesh’s own “anti-conversion law”. They were released on bail nearly a week later, Thomas said in published remarks.
He also said that Pastor Jagdish Gill was assaulted during a Sunday service in Panipat in the northern Haryana state bordering Delhi, which he noted is also also ruled by the BJP party.
India's central government has come under pressure to improve protection for Christians and other minorities in the predominantly Hindu nation.