Christians in Southern India Attacked, Harassed, and Displaced by Extremists
By ICC’s India Correspondent
02/01/2020 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – “I felt at one point that it is better to die than going through [this] terrible pain and trauma,” 46-year-old Siddesh Bhovi recently told International Christian Concern (ICC). Siddesh and his wife, Sharada, used to live in Banni Mardatti village, located in India’s Karnataka state. However, the Christian couple, along with two other families, was displaced by radical Hindu nationalists.
On January 12, a mob of 100 extremists led by a man named Raghu, who local Christians believe to be a member of the RSS, attacked the Christian homes of Banni Mardatti village. Using wooden clubs and sharp stones, the mob ransacked the homes, breaking windows and leaving several Christians severely wounded. According to local Christians, four Christian women had to be rushed to the hospital and were admitted for a week following the attack. Following this brutal assault, the Christian families of Banni Mardatti village fled.
“There is fear that we will be killed,” Revanna, another displaced Christian, told ICC. “We are not staying in our village, because the aggressive mob can do anything they want. Now the question is how long can we stay like this?”
“We have been hounded by Hindu radicals ever since the first attack [on] December 4,” Sharada told ICC. “On that day, we were clearing an open plot to have a Christmas program. The police told us that we Christians should not have any sort of prayers in the village and told our pastor, Pastor Raja Bhovi, not to have prayers or Christian programs in the village.”
When the Christians of Banni Mardatti ignored these threats, the radicals cut off the public drinking water to all Christian families. In addition, local Christians reported that for several days following the December 4 incident, extremists went door to door to each of the 15 Christian homes in Banni Mardatti, accompanied by a Hindu priest, in an attempt to get the Christians to recant their faith.
While the situation was very alarming for the Christians of Banni Mardatti, none caved into the demands of the radicals.
“They took from us what they could, including a physical assault,” Revanna told ICC. “Our homes have been looted and destroyed. We have been thrown out of the village. Now the worst thing that can happen is they can take our lives.”
“We need the Church to pray for us,” Revanna continued. “We need our pastor to lead us. We need God.”
According Pastor Raja Bhovi, who used to lead the Christian community of Banni Mardatti, a false criminal charge has been filed against him by the extremists. According to these charges, Pastor Bhovi is accused of disturbing the peace in the village.
“It is they who are disturbing the peace in the village,” Pastor Bhovi told ICC. “They have physically assaulted the innocent Christians of Banni Mardatti, destroyed their houses, and created havoc.”
Unable to return to Banni Mardatti, Pastor Bhovi has been forced to stay in Annanayakahalli village, where he pastors His Grace Church. However, shortly following the January 12 attack in Banni Mardatti, the radicals arrived in Annanayakahalli.
“They came to Annanayakahalli only three days later and went door to door, trying to force the Christians to reconvert,” Pastor Bhovi told ICC. “They also erected a Hindu idol in front of the church building and installed saffron flags on all of the Christian homes.”
“It is a very concerning situation as no one has come to our aid,” Pastor Bhovi continued. “Neither the police authorities nor anybody is helping us in this situation. We don’t know what will come next or what the future holds for us. However, the one thing we are sure of is that we will continue to follow the Lord.”
Across India, attacks on Christians and their places of worship continue to be reported with greater frequency and severity. Unfortunately, the persecution facing the Christians of Banni Mardatti and Annanayakahalli is not unprecedented. However, despite this rising tide of intolerance, many Indian Christians are holding fast to their faith in the face of intense persecution.