HYDERABAD, India – Hard-line Hindus in southern India, upset that members of their caste-based group have become Christians, burned down a church building and the pastor’s home this month, sources said.
After pastor John Muller and his pregnant wife left for a store on May 3, the assailants in Tamil Nadu state’s Attipattu village, Cuddalore District, set fire to their church building and adjoining home, Pastor Muller told Morning Star News.
Three days prior, five hard-line Hindus in their mid-20s had threatened him, he said.
“They said, ‘Don’t stay here – get out of this area, or we will see your end,’” Pastor Muller said. “Recently, some villagers belonging to Vanniyar, a caste-based Hindu sect, came to Christ. The same caste group opposes conversions in the village because they treat Christianity as a religion of lower castes. They don’t want anyone from Vanniyar to convert to Christianity.”
About 40 families attend his worship services, including the Vanniyar, he said.
“The church and my house got destroyed in fire,” Pastor Muller said. “We lost everything. My wife is 26 weeks pregnant. We are expecting our first child. We are homeless. A kind believer is letting us rest in his house during nights for now.”
Shibu Thomas, founder of Persecution Relief, which assists persecuted Christians, confirmed that hard-line Hindus set the structures ablaze.
The young men who allegedly set the fire were identified only as Madhivannan, Manimaaran, Radha Krishnan, Sarangamani and Naveen, a local official told Pastor Muller. All five of the alleged assailants were said to be influenced by Hindu extremist groups.
The pastor said the official told him that he, the village council head, had prior knowledge that the young men were planning to set the fire and tried to deter them, but that he did not notify police due to caste and family loyalties. For the same reason the village head did not tell media and remained unavailable for comment.
On the day of the attack the pastor received a call from a shopkeeper in nearby Chidambaram saying that Vacation Bible School materials he had ordered were ready. When he and his wife went to collect them, he said, the young men set fire to his church building and home.
On his way back to Attipattu, he received a call from a neighbor that the church building and his house had been on fire for more than two hours. Upon arrival he called the fire station in Chidambaram, 17 kilometers (10 miles) away, and firefighters put out the fire.
A First Information Report (FIR) has been filed in Kumaratchi Police Station dated May 3, but there has been no progress in the investigation, Pastor Muller said
“The police took money from the attackers and went on leave,” he said.
Morning Star News attempted to contact the police officer who took the complaint, but she was unavailable for comment on the case and the accusation.
Eight years ago, when the worship center was under construction, 50 people attacked the pastor and told him to stop building in the village, pastor Arun Kumar of a nearby village told Morning Star News.
“They also cut off electricity wiring and created many problems,” Pastor Kumar said.
Pastor Muller said he did not file a complaint at the time.
“I always thought I shouldn’t complain against them to the officials,” he said. “Instead, I wanted to let things go peacefully and do the Lord’s work, but now they’ve destroyed everything.”
Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, the hostile tone of his National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), against non-Hindus has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians, religious rights advocates say.
India ranked 15th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2017 World Watch List of the countries where Christians experience the most persecution.Take Action