extremists in India told pastor Karma Oraon they would not stop beating
him until he worshipped the monkey god, he felt Christ close to him, he
“In those moments when they were kicking and beating me, I felt that
even if I die now, the Lord will make the ministry I leave behind
fruitful,” Pastor Oraon told Morning Star News. “We are just a few
gathering in the name of Jesus. He is our strength.”
His small flock of eight people was meditating on Scripture on Christmas
Eve at 10:30 a.m. in Harmu village of Ranchi District, Jharkhand state,
when twice as many Hindu nationalists brandishing wooden stick intruded,
shouting, “Praise Bajrang Bali.” Bajrang Bali is another name for the
popular monkey god Hanuman.
“They forcefully dragged me outside when we were in the middle of
meditating on the Word of God,” Pastor Oraon said. “They spewed many
words in extreme foul language and beat me on my chest repeatedly.”
As he was dragged out by the collar, one of the Hindu extremists
video-recorded the scene, also asking his accomplices to record, forward
and circulate the video, sources said.
The Hindu extremists repeatedly asked the pastor his name, refusing to
believe him, as his name is typical of area tribal people who practice
indigenous religions, not Christianity, he said. They called him an
idiot, slapped him and told him to stop lying, and when he showed them
his national identification card, they tore the original document to
pieces, Pastor Oraon said.
“They slapped me and said, ‘You are Oraon? Tell us what you must do,
being an Oraon? Should you should follow the Adivasi [indigenous]
religion or this foreign religion?’” he told Morning Star News. “They
told me, ‘Immediately you should give up Christianity and embrace
Sarnaism/Sarna[indigenous religions) – if you don’t, you will be
Pastor Oraon said they told the congregation, “All the Christians in
this area beware! There is no place for Christianity here. All of you
must embrace Sarna. If anybody goes against this rule, their houses will
be set on fire and they will be killed along with their families.”
They kicked him and expelled him from the village, he said.
Chotu Munda, 21, said he was beaten when he tried rescue the 34-year-old
pastor and female church members who had also tried to separate the
assailants from Pastor Oraon. The pastor noted, “They scolded the
sisters in very vulgar language for coming to help rescue me.”
That night at 10 p.m., he went to a police station, but officers refused
to register a case against the assailants or even receive his complaint,
“I never had an experience of opposition when I preached gospel or
visited families to pray for the sick. But I seek inspiration from my
Lord; people have crossed every limit to humiliate Him and crucify Him,
but He patiently bore their torture for my sake, for my sins,” Pastor
Oraon said. “I strongly feel the presence of my Lord Jesus in all this.
Had He not granted the strength to endure, I could have never overcome
from what happened.”
Worship Anything but Christ
In a separate incident in Jharkhand state, another group of Hindu
extremists beat tribal Christians while they worshipped – also reviling
them for leaving their indigenous religion for Christianity.
About 60 Hindu nationalists stormed into a house church on Christmas Day
in Behratoli village, Ranchi District, where 16 Christians had gathered
to celebrate Christmas.
“They rushed inside and held me by collar – it was sudden,” said pastor
Rakesh Tirkey. “They were at least 60 people, and we were just 16. They
shouted at us and asked us to stop the singing.”
They arrived on 25 motorcycles, slapped him and asked him his name to
determine his indigenous heritage, he said.
“They abused me in extreme foul language, saying, “Idiot, if you are a
Tirkey, then how did you become a Christian?’” the 35-year-old father of
three told Morning Star News. “They beat me with wooden sticks; the
blows got heavier after they got to know that I am a Tirkey.”
Initially they accused him of stealing a motorcycle, and when he showed
them the ownership and insurance papers, they told him they didn’t want
to see any Christians in the area, he said, adding that they snatched
away his Bible, tore the pages to pieces, spit on it, kicked it, and
told him, “Stop converting Adivasis – we will slash your neck off.”
When they tried to light a match to set the torn Bible on fire, they
were unable to ignite it, he said.
Jeevan Munda, at whose house the worship service was held, was also
injured in the attack.
That night Pastor Tirkey went to a police station to file a report, but
officers refused to accept his complaint, the pastor said.
“After the attack, I invited the believers to my house in Khunti
District and urged them to pray in their houses,” he said. “I told we
must stand firm in Christ no matter how severe the opposition.”
He became a Christian eight years ago. Then an alcoholic with declining
health that no doctor was able to relieve, he was healed after putting
his faith in Christ, he said.
“It was then I decided that the Lord has given me good health, so I will
dedicate it to my Lord’s work, and as long as I live, I will serve Him,”
he said. “Now I am leading a life full of joy.”
Endangered Religious Freedom
Pastors Oraon and Tirkey belong to the Believers Eastern Church. The
Rev. Somnath Honhaga, Believers Eastern Church secretary of the Diocese
of Chakradharpur, told Morning Star News that religious freedom in
Jharkhand is in danger.
Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, the hostile
tone of his National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu
nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), against non-Hindus has
emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack
Christians, religious rights advocates say.
The growth of Christianity in Jharkhand state has also brought
increasing attacks by Hindu nationalist groups, Honhaga said.
Unable to get police to register their cases, the two pastors have filed
First Information Reports online, though there has been no progress in
the investigations, Honhaga told Morning Star News.
“The police did not make any arrests,” he said. “Instead, we have been
told that since the pastors cannot identify the assailants, it is
difficult to catch the culprits.”
Indigenous leaders on Dec. 24 raised black flags in parts of Jharkhand
in protest of rising Christianity and “Western culture,” and Christian
leaders suspect indigenous Sarna advocates supported by the Hindu
extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) were behind the attacks.
The Central Sarna Committee (Kendriya Sarna Samiti) of Jharkhand state
issued a press release demanding the government enforce the state’s
“anti-conversion” law. The law passed last year bans forcible or
fraudulent conversion, though comments by Hindu nationalists indicate
they mistakenly take it to mean it bans any conversion from Hinduism.
People convicted of fraudulent or forcible conversion can be punished by
prison terms of up to three years in Jharkhand state, or up to four
years if the person fraudulently or forcibly converted is an indigenous
tribal known as Adivasi. Adivasis are entitled to government benefits.
“Christian missionaries are forcefully taking away the rights of
Adivasis by converting them,” the Central Sarna Committee statement
read, labelling as “Westernization” people converting to Christianity.
“People from other faiths representing themselves as Adivasi are rising
to the positions of village president, ward members and government
Phulchand Tirkey, director of Sarna Samiti, demanded the government stop
considering Christians as Adivasi, saying, “Christians must not be given
the status of Adivasi.”
The Constitution of India recognizes tribal populations who are original
inhabitants of a given region as Adivasi regardless of their religious
beliefs, a constitutional expert who requested anonymity told Morning
“There is potential threat to the Christian converts from those who
believe in the deep-rooted casteism,” the source said.
During the Dec. 24 protest, Sarna activists were reported to have taken
an oath to disrupt Christmas celebrations, according to local media
“Standing in the middle of the main road in the state capital, Ranchi,
they shouted these words,” Honhaga said. “They raised slogans against
The smaller churches were attacked, he noted.
“It was a pre-planned attack by the Sarna committee supported by the RSS,”
Honhaga said. “They are trying to divide the aboriginal people of this
state. The Christian missionaries have played a vital role in bringing
education to the Adivasis. They have reached even the remotest parts of
Jharkhand, started good schools and propagated the love of God through
The Hindu nationalists cannot abide tribal people rising to higher
positions, he said.
“The word Adivasi means native of the region, and they want to use
tribals as their vote bank by creating divisions among them,” Honhaga
told Morning Star News. “If an Adivasi converts to Christianity, how can
he lose the status of being an Adivasi? He is the native, and he will
remain so. They have left behind the pointless beliefs and myths, idol
worship and have come to the Light. Instead of encouraging their
progress, they are creating rifts among them. It is pathetic.”
Adivasi Christians in Jharkhand requested prayers for freedom to
India ranked 11th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018
World Watch List of countries where Christians experience the most
persecution, up from 15th the previous year, and ahead of Saudi Arabia,
Nigeria and Egypt.
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