Violent attacks on Christians in India have been increasing during the Covid-19 pandemic, reports Release’s Kenneth Harrod.
Pastor Balwinder Bhatti had spent a joyful evening leading a prayer meeting in the house of one of his small congregations. At about 9pm he headed home to his young family. He never got there.
On the way Pastor Balwinder, who was 40, was intercepted by a group of Hindu extremists. They attacked him, beat him and then stabbed him to death.
For three years Balwinder had been pastoring an independent church in Zira, a town in India’s northern Punjab state. According to Release’s partner in India he had been threatened many times by Hindu extremists, who repeatedly called on him to stop his gospel ministry. Undeterred, he ignored the threats and continued to follow his calling.
Pastor Balwinder and his wife Nisha, 39, had a family of five children, aged between five and 13 years old (pictured). They were from a very poor background. ‘After her husband was killed [Nisha] was left helpless, very much worried about her children’s future,’ said our partner, who provided financial support and food aid. Balwinder’s killing was among a spate of martyrdoms in India in recent months. ‘There has been an increase in physical violence during the Covid-19 pandemic: six murders, and a number of physical attacks that have left pastors and church members injured,’ our partner said.
‘In the past it was always the allegation of converting people – now the spreading of the virus is given as a reason.’ At the same time, helping victims and their families has become more challenging, because of the pandemic. ‘It has become more difficult in the interior villages. Help reaches later and victims may go through much difficulty before they get support.’
Pastor Munshi Devu Tado and his wife Jaini became Christians three years ago. From the moment they came to faith, members of their extended family as well as some of their neighbours attempted to persuade them to renounce Christ and return to Hinduism. But they remained firm.
‘Munshi was abducted, taken into a jungle area and shot dead’
Munshi then began sharing the gospel in the village in Maharashtra state where they lived. On two occasions Hindu extremists warned him to stop. Eventually he left the mainvillage and built a small house on nearby agricultural land that he owned. From there he began running Christian worship services.
One Friday afternoon, after a time of prayer and fasting with his small flock of believers, Munshi was abducted by a group of Hindu extremists. He was taken into a jungle area about two kilometres away, and shot dead.
Following his killing, Munshi’s wife Jaini fled from the village with her three daughters and son – all aged between two and nine years old. She took refuge in the home of a Christian family in a nearby village. Her family, and her late husband’s family have prevented her from returning home.
In recent months pastors who have sought to visit needy church members have been accused of spreading Covid-19. However, said our partner, no such accusation is levelled at Hindus – including the much- publicised laying of a foundation stone at a new temple to the Hindu deity Ram in Uttar Pradesh in August.
In the summer we reported on our website the killing of Christian teenager Samaru Madkami (pictured) in Odisha state. His was one of just three families in their village who had come to faith, through the gospel outreach of a local church. When the pastor stopped visiting to conduct services – because of repeated threats – Samaru, just 16 years old, took it upon himself to lead church meetings.
He and two other Christians were abducted from their homes during the night, and taken into a mountainous area.
While the two older men managed to escape, Samaru was slaughtered, his body mutilated and buried. When his remains were eventually found, our partner provided a van so the impoverished family could properly dispose of his body.
After Release partners reported the murder to police, four men were arrested. Our partners continue to support all three families, and have helped them to relocate for their safety.
‘They had received threats several times from the radicals to stop worshipping Jesus Christ, but they are firm in their faith,’ said our partner.
• that God will comfort all these families who have suffered loss
• for justice for believers who have been attacked and killed
• for courage and wisdom for Christian leaders facing persecution
RELEASE’S MINISTRY IN INDIA
Thanks to your gifts, Release helps persecuted Christians in India by providing:
• financial and practical help for victims of attacks
• financial support for the families of martyrs
• legal help and advice
• Bibles and Christian literature for outreach and discipleship
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