Tuesday, April 5, 2022

RLPB 640. India: Pastors on Death List in South Chhattisgarh

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 640 | Wed 06 Apr 2022
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INDIA: PASTORS ON DEATH LIST IN SOUTH CHHATTISGARH
by Elizabeth Kendal

In January a public notice written in the Hindi language appeared in Chhattisgarh's south-western Bijapur District. Posted on the main road of Angampalli village, the notice directed locals to 'Worship the tribal gods and goddesses; Oppose Christian Religion'. It was signed by the 'National Park Area Committee, CPI (Maoist),' [CPI: Communist Party of India]. The notice listed 22 local Christian 'pastors' who the CPI (Maoists) demanded should 'leave pastorship of the Christian faith propagating enemy culture', warning that failure to comply would result in action being taken against them.

On the evening of 17 March, six masked men entered Angampalli village and descended on the home of Pastor Yalam Shankar (58; also known as Pastor Timothy). Pastor Shankar went outside to see what they wanted, followed by his daughter-in-law who witnessed everything that followed. She told Morning Star News (MSN): 'As soon as my father-in-law stepped out of the house, they tied his hands at the back. Then they hit his face and forced him to kneel. After he did, they slit the back of his neck with a knife. They shot two bullets into his chest and stabbed him in his chest with a knife.' She added that when one of the masked men then pointed his gun at her head, 'My heartbeat suddenly increased, and my head began to spin, and I fainted out of fear.' A former village sarpanch (village head), Pastor Yalam Shankar was a well-known and influential person. A natural leader, he had repeatedly defended Christians from radical Hindu nationalists. Pastor Shankar was the Senior Pastor of the BCM (Bastar for Christ Missionary Movement) church in Angampalli village. The BCM Movement started in Chhattisgarh's conflict-ridden south-eastern Bastar district, but now sends missionaries all over the state. Pastor Shankar's name was second on the list of 22 'pastors' warned to stop propagating Christianity.

The killers left a Hindi-language note on Pastor Shankar's body which read: 'The police informer of Angampalli village Yalam Shankar is killed at the hands of our PLGA.' [PLGA: People's Liberation Guerrilla Army, the armed wing of the banned CPI (Maoist).] The killing has all the traits of a professional military-style execution, indicating it was indeed the work of Maoist insurgents (also known as Naxalites) and not Hindu nationalist thugs. However, the claimed pretext - that the pastor was a police informant - is not credible. The local police chief denied that Shankar was ever an informer. Local Christians also deny it.

Pastor Narendra Kumar introduces Pastor Shankar's family and explains what happened.
from left: daughter-in-law (eyewitness), wife, younger son, elder son.
British Asian Christian Association (BACA) 19 March 2022


Pastor Vasim Shankar is anxious that he could be targeted next. His name appeared not only among the 22 'pastors' on the public notice, but also on the note left on Pastor Yalam Shankar's body wherein Vasim is also accused of being a police informer. 'I am not a police informer,' he told MSN. 'I have not met or been associated with either the police or the Maoists. Neither was Pastor Yalam Shankar an informer. These are false allegations to frame us and kill us.' Santosh Yalam's name is also on the list of 22 'pastors', even though he is not a pastor. He lives in Tamlapalli village, around 1km from Angampalli, and told MSN that area Christians had faced increased opposition from local Gond tribals since November, when the villagers commenced a boycott of the Christians to protest conversions. 'There were many incidents of violence,' he said, 'wherein the Christians were beaten, and their property destroyed while they were threatened and told to "return" [to traditional Gond animism].'

(l) India in 1525, showing Gondwana;
(r)
Naxalite insurgency 2018;
highlighted area = south Chhattisgarh

With a population of more than 12 million, the Gond community comprises the largest tribal group in India. The Gond - whose language is Dravidian (from south India) - are spread throughout Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, a region which for centuries was known as the Kingdom of Gondwana.

Downtrodden and exploited under the racist Hindu caste system, many Gond have been drawn into the anti-Hindu Maoist/Naxalite insurgency that has plagued the 'Red Corridor' of north-east India for decades. While tribal Christians oppose all forms of violence, they have long been allies of the tribal animists in the struggle against the racist Hindu caste system and Hindu-Aryan domination and exploitation.

To the Hindu nationalist BJP, the Gond are nothing but a massive vote bank which must be won. To capture the Gond vote, the BJP incites hatred, portraying Christians as an existential threat to Gond families and Gond culture, while promoting the anti-conversion BJP as the solution. [See RLPB 506, Christian Crisis in North India, 12 June 2019; and RLPB 612, Divide and Rule in Bastar, Chhattisgarh, 25 Aug 2021.] Having turned India's tribal belt into a tinderbox of anti-Christian suspicion and hatred, the BJP is now igniting fires amongst the Gond, who in turn are using their Maoist/Naxalite contacts to eliminate Christian 'pastors' suspected of 'propagating Christianity'. The situation is extremely serious.

As for Chhattisgarh's Bijapur District, there are still 21 'pastors' on that list; their lives are in imminent peril.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL

* sustain and provide for Pastor Yalam Shankar's family; may they be assured of the eternal presence of the God of all comfort (2 Cor 1:3-5).

* intervene in Bijapur District - indeed, in all of Chhattisgarh and the north India tribal belt - to ensure that pastors and evangelists are afforded protection, criminals are brought to justice, and Hindu nationalist lies - in particular the lie that Christians (rather than the BJP) are the enemy - are exposed as political machinations aimed at dividing and conquering the the people so as to enable further exploitation of the tribals and their lands.

There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers (Proverbs 6:16-19 ESV).

* send his angels to guide and protect the 21 remaining 'pastors' named on that list; may not one be lost, for India needs her missionaries. Lord have mercy.

For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock ... Give me not up to the will of my adversaries; for false witnesses have risen against me, and they breathe out violence (Psalm 27:5,12 ESV).

Sunday 27 March in Bagiya. (source)

We also pray for Pastor Christopher Tirki and Jyoti Prakash Toppo who were arrested and jailed in north-east Chhattisgarh on Sunday 27 March, charged with 'attempting religious conversions.' May the Lord sustain and deliver them.

Pastor Tirki was leading worship for 25 Christian families, comprising 65 believers of the Kanwar tribe in Bagiya village, Jashpur district, in Chhattisgarh's far north-east, when a mob of Hindu nationalists stormed the service and began assaulting and abusing the congregation. Agents of the Hindu nationalist VHP reported the situation, leading the police to arrest and jail Tirki and Toppo on the charge of attempting to procure illegal religious conversions. Pastor Tirki denies the charge, insisting anyone who converts does so of their own free will. 'Our work,' he said, 'is to impart the Bible's teachings.' Please pray.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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INDIA: PASTORS ON DEATH LIST IN SOUTH CHHATTISGARH


In January a public notice appeared in Chhattisgarh's south-western Bijapur District demanding locals worship tribal gods and resist Christianity. The notice included a list of 22 'pastors' who it warned should stop pastoring and propagating Christianity or action would be taken against them. On 17 March Maoist/Naxalite militants executed Pastor Yalam Shankar (58). A senior pastor and former village chief, Pastor Shankar's name was second on the list. The region is predominantly populated by the animistic Gond tribe, the largest tribe in India. To win the Gond vote, the Hindu nationalist BJP presents Christianity as an existential threat and the anti-conversion BJP as the solution. It is possible the Gond are using their Maoist/Naxalite contacts to eliminate Christian 'pastors' suspected of 'propagating Christianity'. There are still 21 pastors on that list. Please pray.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate, and an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com