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Christian Worker Shot Dead For Preaching

Jharkhand state police say villagers had evangelist killed for converting tribal people.

9/28/07 India (Compass Direct News) – Villagers in Jharkhand state arranged for a Christian worker, Ajay Topno, to be shot to death earlier this month for converting three tribal families to Christianity, according to police.

The 38-year-old Topno, who worked for Christian media organization Trans World Radio, was found dead with bullet wounds on September 19 in a jungle near Sahoda village, in Lapung block of Ranchi district.

“At least three tribal families in Sahoda village had converted to Christianity, which infuriated some local villagers, who held a meeting with each other and decided to ‘reconvert’ those families to Hinduism,” Inspector Rajesh Mandal of the Lapung police station told Compass. “After reconverting the Christian families, the villagers arranged for Topno’s killing through a local criminal, who shot him dead.”

The presence of criminals in the area is “very high,” the inspector added.

Mandal said some villagers absconded soon after Topno’s body was found. He gave assurances that the culprits would be arrested soon.

“Since local villagers were involved in the killing, we are not getting any witnesses from there, but we are confident that we will be able to nab the killers soon,” he said.

The slain Christian worker used to go to Sahoda occasionally with a friend who conducts Sunday worship services in Sahoda village. The friend had stopped going to the village as tensions grew, but Topno was not aware of the situation.

The Jharkhand state unit of the All India Christian Council (AICC) said in a statement that Topno left his house on September 16, telling his wife that he was going to Sahoda village, but he never returned.

The AICC statement quoted the regional edition of Hindi language national daily Dainik Jagran as saying that some villagers chased three convert families out of Sahoda village on September 11.

Two days later, the daily reported that an extremist tribal group, Adivasi Sarna Samiti (Tribal Religion Committee) Dhurva, told villagers of Sahoda that they should target Christian workers rather than chase out the converts. The group singled out Topno as the missionary, accusing him of converting people with inducements.

The following day, on September 14, the three convert families, who had returned to the village after the September 11 incident, were “reconverted” under the guidance of the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Hindu Jagran Manch (Forum for Revival of Hinduism), reported the daily.

On September 20, local newspapers, including Dainik Jagran, The Hindustan Times, and The Telegraph, reported that Topno was killed by a separatist group, Jharkhand Liberation Tigers – which Inspector Mandal categorically denied to Compass, saying it was an act of a local criminal on the behest of some tribal villagers.

“The killing of Topno has aroused fear in the minds of local believers,” said the AICC statement. “The whole Christian community in Jharkhand state is shocked and sad.”

The AICC statement also called on officials to protect Christians in the area.

Jharkhand has close to 27 million people, out of which about 1 million are Christian.

Although Jharkhand is ruled by the Congress Party, Hindu extremists are active in many pockets, as a sizeable number of people in the state are tribal or aboriginal people. Extremists accuse Christians of using inducement to convert tribal people, a majority of who are poor and uneducated.

It is estimated that close to 20 percent of Christians in India are from tribal backgrounds. Tribal people believe in indigenous faiths, not Hinduism, but Hindu nationalists claim they are followers of Hinduism.