A week before the vicious attack, seven people from the village had given the victim an ultimatum to renounce Christianity or face death. Many locals don’t believe the police’s claim of it being a politically motivated attack by Maoists.
Sukhbati Gand with her children in a photo taken before her husband Anant Ram Gand was found murdered in India’s Odisha state. He had been given an ultimatum to renounce Christianity or face death. (Courtesy: www.ucanews.com)
Odisha: A Christian evangelical man was found virtually beheaded in Orissa, which many believe was a hate crime committed by Hindu fanatics because of his conversion to the faith.
The victim Anant Ram Gand, 40, was the father of five children. Shibu Thomas, the founder of the Persecution Relief network that deals with defending discriminated Christians in India, said that Gand had converted to Christianity nine months ago and had been baptized two months ago. “His conversion has attracted the ire of the villagers, mostly Hindu fanatics. They armed the Naxals who physically committed the murder,” he told Asia News.
The murder took place on February 11 in Bhenas village, Raigarh Tehsil, Nabarangapur district. The news was released yesterday by Persecution Relief, after a meeting with the Christian's family. The group reported that on the day of the murder, his wife Sukhbati went to the nearby village with her four daughters (aged 13, 11, 3 and 2), while Anant, with their 6-year-old son Purno, were at home. His son was present at the time of his murder and he is the only eyewitness. He saw the men who had taken his father away.
Local pastor Chandan Jani said the victim's throat was cut and his head had been crushed by a heavy object. "He seemed to have died unmoved from the spot of attack," said the evangelical pastor, who helped the widow to bury his body, ucanews reported.
He said news of the killing took more than a week to become more widely known because the area where the murder took place is extremely isolated.
Gand and his family had accepted faith in Jesus three years ago but local Hindu villagers pressurized him to renounce his faith. That included forcing the family to live on the outskirts of the village and at times he was manhandled.
"But they continued believing in the faith,” the pastor said.
A week before the vicious attack, seven people from the village had given Gand an ultimatum to renounce Christianity or face death, said the pastor, who has remained in contact with the family.
Pastor Jani said police had registered it as murder carried out by outlawed Maoists active in the hilly area of the state. The Maoists, who clash with authorities in their attempts to establish a parallel administration in outlying areas, kill villagers suspected of aiding the security forces.
Pastor Jani said the Maoists were not involved in this case and it was obvious that fellow villagers murdered Gand.
However, it was easier for police to avoid having to conduct a proper investigation and pursue court proceedings against village Hindus by falsely blaming the Maoist rebels, the pastor said.
The boy is the most vulnerable as he could inform police of what he saw and possibly testify in court, the pastor said. The family has moved out of the village as they face ongoing threats to their lives.
Hostility toward Christians continues in many parts of the state, which witnessed India's worst anti-Christian violence in August 2008 when frenzied Hindu mobs armed with axes and swords attacked Christian homes, churches and convents in the hilly Kandhamal district.
The violence that continued for seven weeks resulted in an estimated 100 people being killed. About 350 churches and some 6,500 houses were looted and burned, making 56,000 people homeless. Several rapes were reported, including that of a Catholic nun, ucanews reported.
Gand's village is several hundred kilometres further into the interior from Kandhamal.
Church leaders say that persecution of Christians has been on the rise in India ever since the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party came to power nationally in 2014. The BJP also holds power in 19 of the nation's 29 states.
Persecution Relief, an ecumenical forum monitoring violence against Christians, in its annual report released recently said Indian Christians suffered 1,059 incidents of violence in 2018, up from 736 in 2017.