A 50 year-old Christian pastor has been murdered by a group of around 50 masked men in India, according to charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
CSW says it happened on 17 March in the Bijapur district of Chhattisgarh.
Yallam Shankar was having dinner at his home in the evening when a large mob forced entry, dragged him out and stabbed him with a sharp weapon. The attack took place while the Hindu festival of Holika Dahan (a celebration of good over evil) was being celebrated in the Angampalli village where Pastor Shankar lives.
Before he began leading a church, Pastor Shankar had served as the head of the village panchayat (village council), where he was a vocal advocate for the rights of Christians and helped those who had experienced rights violations to seek justice.
Local sources told CSW that Pastor Shankar had received several threats to his life in the past, which included demands that he abandon Christianity and accept Hinduism.
A police investigation has begun, however there are different theories about the motive for the pastor’s murder.
A hand-written note reportedly found at the crime scene appears to link the murder to the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA), an armed Maoist group. It accuses Pastor Shankar of being a police informer, and claims that he was attacked because he didn't heed the PLGA’s warnings. The police, however, have denied that he was a police informant. Maoists in the area have historically shown opposition to conversion, and even warned members of local tribal communities to be aware of conversions.
However, local clergy, activists and Christians in the area believe that in spite of the note, there is no clarity as to whether the attack was really carried out by Maoists or whether they are being framed by other anti-Christian elements who are against conversion.
CSW's Founder President Mervyn Thomas said:
“CSW extends our deepest condolences to the family and loved ones of Pastor Yallam Shankar, a man who served his village well by advocating for the rights of minorities and speaking up for justice. Chhattisgarh is increasingly becoming a breeding ground for targeted attacks on Christians, and the authorities’ efforts to address this have thus far proven insufficient. We urge the authorities in Chhattisgarh to conduct a swift and thorough investigation into this murder, ascertaining the motivation behind it and bringing the perpetrators to justice for their actions."