Christian Tribal Beheaded for His Faith in India’s Odisha State
By ICC’s India Correspondent
04/11/2019 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Anant Ram Gond, a 40-year-old Christian, was found beheaded in February in Nabarangpur, Odisha in India. At the time of writing, his killers have yet to be apprehended by the authorities. Unfortunately, the likelihood of the attackers being brought to justice is highly unlikely due to collusion between local law enforcement and leaders of the Gond community.
According to heart-wrenching reports, Anant Ram, father of four girls and a boy, was dragged out of his home in Bhenos village around 8 p.m. last February. He was taken from his bed where he was sleeping next to his 6-year-old son, Purno. Despite pleas from the child, the killers dragged the father away into the darkness and threatened the boy not to follow them.
The next morning, Anant Ram’s body was found with his head almost completely severed and crushed by a heavy object.
Family members believe the attack on Anant Ram was an anti-Christian attack. However, police claim that he was killed by politically motivated Maoist rebels.
Pastor Hiran Khosla helped Anant’s wife, Sukhbati, lodge a complaint with the police. The pastor told International Christian Concern (ICC), “Police came to the village and conducted investigations twice, but no arrests have been made [to] date.”
“The events that led to the killing of Anant Ram go back to more than two years when he was being harassed by both police and Naxalites suspecting of being an informer for both sides,” Pastor Khosla explained.
The Naxalites (or Maoists) are a guerrilla group with communist ideologies that is engaged in an armed conflict with government forces in the forested areas of central India.
Caught between the proverbial devil and the deep sea, Anant Ram and his family embraced Christ, and found peace and relief from the stressors of life. They were restless in their hearts and wanted peace for their souls.
Dasrup Das, who discipled Anant Ram in the local church, told ICC, “Anant Ram and his family began attending church more than one year ago, unable to bear all the pressure. But villagers thought that he was getting attached to a new culture and threatened him on a regular basis.”
Recalling the incident, Sukhbati told ICC that in September 2018, just after Nua Khayi (a traditional harvest festival), three men came and questioned her husband as to why he was leaving the Gond caste and embracing a lower caste (Christianity is generally perceived as a religion for low caste people).
“Anant Ram and his family began attending church more than one year ago, unable to bear all the pressure. But villagers thought that he was getting attached to a new culture and threatened him on a regular basis.”
Sukhbati continued, telling ICC, “Later on, the villagers performed some black magic ritual hoping that my master (tribal women address their husbands as ‘master’) would die, but it was unsuccessful. They later taunted my master, saying, ‘You are becoming a pandit (priest) so our black magic didn’t work.’”
When all else failed, the fanatics called for a meeting of the community leaders under the authority of the Gondwana Bikas Mandal (GBM), a welfare organization of the Gond community, in order to discuss the matter of Anant Ram.
They issued a summons letter for Anant Ram to attend the meeting.
“Members of this GBM, numbering around 200, converged from all surrounding villages and conveyed a menacing message to Anant Ram to reject Christianity. This happened in January 2019,” Das recalled.
When their arguments didn’t work, they ostracised Anant Ram and his family. He began to live outside the village on a parcel of forested land where he was cultivating rice and corn.
“Even after all this, seven people came to us in the beginning of February, giving my master an ultimatum to renounce Christianity or else they would send the tigers of the jungle (Naxalites),” added Sukhbati.
One week later, Anant Ram was killed.
Ironically the GBM is meant to work for the welfare of the community. Instead, they murdered one of their own members.
Bhenos village is part of a grouping tribal settlements in the forest areas of the Raighar province of India’s Odisha state. It took nearly an hour of driving in the dust and heat to reach the area. Basic infrastructure like access roads, safe drinking water, and electricity are virtually non-existent in this area. Although time has passed and society has advanced, the people in these regions still struggle to feed themselves day to day.
These forest dwellers scavenge for produce in the forest during the summers and farm during monsoon season. The government has attempted to start welfare programs, but they currently exist only on paper. Christian workers offer the message of hope to this community that otherwise leads a hopeless life. The GBM on the other hand does little to alleviate the poverty that grips the community.
Sukhbati now lives in fear about what the religious fanatics might do to her five children: Purnima (age 12), Dhanomati (age 10), Purno (age 6), Kekoi (age 5), and Hemlata (age 2). However, her faith is bold and alive.
Sukhbati concluded, “My master is dead. He has been killed for his faith. But I will not forsake Jesus Christ my saviour. We request you to uphold my children and me in your prayers for our faith to remain strong and for our daily needs.”
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