Tribal animists in eastern India earlier this month surrounded a church building with axes, threatened to kill Christians within and later burned down the thatched-roof structure, sources said.
Hard-line animists in Odisha state's Perigaon village, Rayagada District, attacked on Dec. 1 after having raided Christian homes to seize and burn Bibles five days earlier.
"After we concluded the prayers and community lunch service [on Dec. 1], a batch of around 15 tribal men came with axes, surrounded the church and threatened that they will chop us into pieces," pastor Bibudhan Pradhan told Morning Star News.
"They took us inside the village and held us hostage for more than four hours," Pastor Pradhan said. "They abused us in vulgar language, words that I can't utter with my mouth, and threatened us that their gods and goddesses will swallow us alive for propagating Christianity in an Adivasi [indigenous tribal] hamlet."
They took no one else hostage, but that night they set the mud-and-bamboo structure on fire, the pastor said.
"My wife and I had been ministering in Perigaon for the past four years," Pastor Pradhan said. "At least thrice the tribal extremists blocked us from entering the village by laying huge branches of trees on the road."
"Tribals are dominant in Rayagada, and the tribal families' sentiments have been affected." Vivek told Morning Star News that villagers were angry that a Hindu priest who had been granted land for Hindu worship had converted to Christianity, resulting in the rituals having ceased for the past four years.
The officer said the former Hindu priest has built a Christian house of worship on the land, and that he must renounce all rights to the land.
Pastor Pradhan [said] the convert had actually been a priest of tribal Adivasi religion, not Hinduism, and that the land had been the site of an Adivasi temple. The former animist priest is now church elder Bhasker Rao.
Since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power, its parent organization, the Rashtriya Swayam Sevaksangh (RSS) has been using the words "Hindu" and "Adivasi" as synonyms in order to promote the Hindu caste hierarchy. The use of this language among police and administrative officials is indicative of their Hindu nationalist leanings and connections with the RSS, sources said.
"The church's site is one kilometer from Rao's residence," Pastor Pradhan said. "He was formerly the tribal Adivasi priest and has come to Christ four years ago. He has been under immense pressure from the villagers to perform the offerings and worship to Adivasi deities, but he resisted their advances."
Pastor Pradhan said villagers have threatened that if church members take legal action, they would expel the Christians' children from government welfare hostels and forbid burials within village limits.
"They also demanded that Christians must fund Adivasi rituals and festivities, and if they refuse to donate, they will not be allowed to avail the government benefits or have the tribal status," he said.
In the face of the threats, church members have decided not to pursue legal action. Chinchani practices at the Cuttack High Court 500 kilometers (310 miles) away, and the ADF-India team is offering them counsel through local contacts.
Odisha, formerly Orissa state, was the first to pass an anti-conversion law in 1967, attorney Chinchani said. Forbidding conversion by inducement or fraud, the law is commonly misused to file false charges against Christians in attempts to stop the spread of Christianity. Odisha's population of 4.1 million is 93.6 percent Hindu, 2.77 percent Christian and 2.17 percent Muslim, according to the 2011 census.