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BosNewsLife – Hindu militants have threatened to burn and kill over 60 new Christians in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh if they refuse to renounce their faith and convert back to Hinduism, mission group Gospel for Asia (GFA) said Tuesday, November 15.

GFA, which supports thousands of native missionaries in India , said the tensions began November 4 when one of the pastors of the local evangelical Believers Church in Baijnath town was attacked on his way to a nearby village for allegedly converting Hindus.

The 62-year-old pastor, Feroz Masih, was reportedly still recovering Tuesday, November 15, from the beatings he received from members of the nationalist Hindu group Vishwa Hindu Parishad or ‘World Hindu Council’ and its youth wing, Bajrang Dal.

“Now the same group says they will conduct a Puja ritual on November 20 to forcefully convert the Christians in the church, pastored by [his son] GFA native missionary Ramesh Masih Battih, back to Hinduism,” GFA said in a statement. “They said they would burn alive any [Christian] who does not renounce” the faith in Christ.

Compass Direct, a Christian news agency, quoted Battih as saying his father was forced to sign a paper saying he was willing to reconvert himself and his church members to Hinduism. “They also warned him that he, along with all the believers, would be burned alive if they refused to reconvert. They also threatened to burn down the believers’ houses,” he reportedly said. There were no comments from the VHP or police officials.

GFA described the threat as “reminiscent of the brutal murder of missionary Graham Staines [from Australia ] and his two children by the same kind of fundamentalists in [the state of] Orissa.” Staines , who worked with lepers in Orissa, and his two young sons Philip, 10, and Timothy, 8, were burned alive by Hindu militants on January 22, 1999.

Although Pastor Battih filed a complaint with local police about the attack and threats, investigations are difficult as the “area is dominated by a large temple to the Hindu god Shiva,” GFA claimed. “Thousands of pilgrims come to the temple, so it is not clear if the police will take any action to protect the Christians,” the mission group explained.

“What is most important now is that we pray for this situation,” added GFA President K.P. Yohannan. “These brothers and sisters have chosen by their own free will to follow Christ.”

He said he urged GFA supporters to “to pray for their protection, and that God will surround them with His angels and turn back any violence.” Yohannan also urged prayers “for their attackers, that their hearts will be softened” and “the people set free in Christ.”

Himachal Pradesh has reportedly one of the smallest Christian populations in India . Christians number only 7,687 in a total population of 6 million, Compass Direct news agency quoted a 2001 census as saying.

Human rights and church groups have expressed growing concern about attacks against Christians in India and have urged the central government to improve protection for religious minorities in the mainly Hindu nation of over one billion people.