NEW DELHI (Morning Star News) – Maoists in Maharashtra state killed a church pastor on Friday (July 10), the fourth death of a Christian for their faith in India since late May, sources said.
In Bhatpar village, Gadchiroli District in the western peninsular state, pastor Munshi Devu Tado was leading a worship service on his property for about 15 village families from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. when three armed men and three women escorted him away, said his wife, Jaini Munshi Tado.
“They shook hands with him at first, then took him by his hand and, after few steps, they tied his hands at his back with a rope,” she told Morning Star News. “I, my father-in-law and brother-in-law followed after them, pleading and enquiring as to why they are taking him. They said they just want to talk to him and that we need not worry, they will send him back in a little while.”
Family members continued to follow until the Maoists forcibly stopped them and pushed them away, throwing them to the ground, Jaini Munshi Tado said.
“Hardly five to seven minutes later, we heard a gunshot,” she said, weeping. “We immediately ran in the direction only to find the body of my husband in the pool of his blood, and the Maoists had gone. I wept bitterly, my husband was gone.”
Pastor Tado was estimated to be in his mid-thirties. He leaves behind four children, ages 6, 5, 4 and 1.
Villagers upset with the growth of the church and the number of converts to Christianity from their native tribal religion incited Maoists to kill the pastor, though the assailants tried to give the impression that they killed him for being an informer, sources said.
The Maoists left a note in Pastor Tado’s pocket saying that he earned large amounts of money as a police informer against the militant insurgents, Jaini Munshi Tado said.
When police arrived to investigate, they told Christians that Pastor Tado was not an informer for them, and that they did not even know him, said pastor Vijay Kumar Vachami, a mentor and close associate of Pastor Tado.
Villagers had sent three letters to Maoists at different times spreading false information about Pastor Tado to instigate them against him, Pastor Vachami said.
“The Maoists once sent back a message saying, ‘We do not want to kill Tado, make him understand, and he will understand,’ but the villagers did not stop at that,” Pastor Vachami told Morning Star News. “They pestered the Maoists to the point that they actually executed the horrendous killing.”
The pastor and his family began to suffer persecution after the couple put their faith in Christ seven years ago, he said. A Christian from a nearby village had told them the gospel, and Tado’s family was the first family to convert from their tribal religion in the village of about 100 families, he said.
“They were persecuted in every way,” Pastor Vachami said. “Then one day, their house was attacked and brought down by the villagers. They were told to leave the village or else they would be killed.”
Three years ago, Pastor Tado left his village and made a temporary shelter for his family a mile from the village on his farmland, he said. Pastor Tado began to lead regular worship services at his new place, and people began receiving Christ, said Pastor Vachami, who lives in a neighboring village.
“There were only three Christian families in the past, but this year due to the hard work of Tado, the number of families increased to 18,” he said.
Contributions from church members helped Pastor Tado erect a separate worship place on his farmland, which the Christians inaugurated two weeks ago, he said.
“He was a very simple man and a very faithful servant of God,” Pastor Vachami said. “Please pray for his family that is left behind.”
Pastor Tado and his wife were once Maoists, Jaini Munshi Tado said.
They joined the Maoist Naxalite movement in 2005, and police arrested them in 2007 from their home in Bhatpur village for participation in the communist insurgency. They were convicted and spent 18 months in prison, she said.
Upon their release, they returned to their village and began to make a living working their farmland. Their former Maoist contacts visited and even encouraged them to continue with the fresh start in their lives, she said.
“Since that day till only now, the Maoists never visited us or troubled us, nor called us back,” Jaini Munshi Tado said.
A First Information Report was registered at the Bhamragarh police station, but the family has not received a copy as investigations continue. Police declined to take calls from Morning Star News.
Pastor Tado’s body was scheduled for autopsy at the government hospital of Bhamragarh on Sunday (July 12).
“We earned our living by serving the Lord and by working in the agriculture fields,” Jaini Munshi Tado said. “Now that my husband is gone, I will ask God for His grace for me to bring up the four children.”
Including the death under mysterious circumstances of a Christian woman in Chhattisgarh state the last week of May, Pastor Tado’s killing would be the fourth religiously motivated slaying of a Christian in less than two months. In Bari village, Jharkhand state, followers of tribal religion on June 7 abducted and killed Kande Munda. On the night of June 4 in Odisha state, followers of tribal religion abducted 16-year-old Sambaru Madkami for his faith before stabbing and stoning him to death.
In the case in Chhattisgarh state, tribal Hindus persecuted a widowed, Christian mother of four before her body was found severely mutilated in the wilderness near her village, sources said.
The body of 40-year-old Bajjo Bai Mandavi appeared to have been eaten by wild animals when it was found two miles into the wilderness near her native Kumud village, Kuye Mari, on May 29, but local Christians suspect villagers upset by her conversion killed her. She was last seen going into the wilderness of Kondagaon District to collect firewood on May 25.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom on April 28 urged the U.S. State Department to add India as a “Country of Particular Concern” to its list of nations with poor records of protecting religious freedom.
India is ranked 10th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position has worsened since Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.