Christian Family Beaten and Separated from Children For Refusing To Reject Christ

Christians meet near their rebuilt church in Kandhamal. In 2008, almost every church in the area was destroyed by Hindu nationalists.

A Christian couple in central India have not seen their two young children for more than a month after an attack by followers of traditional tribal religion drove them from their village for refusing to recant their faith.

Aayatu Ram Podiyami, 35, was assaulted twice in Gupanpal village, Sukma District, 31 miles from the Sukma city in Chhattisgarh state, for refusing to recant his Christian faith.

Aayatu Podiyami managed to escape into the jungle on both occasions, but his father, Mangu Ram Podiyami, “is not young and swift” and was unable to outrun the second assault, he said.

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“The mob stopped beating him after he passed out, and his assailants thought he was dead,” Aayatu Podiyami said.

He and his wife and father have not returned home since taking refuge at a secure place on Feb. 12. The couple has two daughters, ages 7 and 4. Aayatu Podiyami is the sole surviving son among three siblings, and also remaining at his house are his mother, younger brother’s widow and child, and his older brother’s son.

“I cannot go back home to see my children,” Aayatu Podiyami told Morning Star News. “Our assailants are on the watch, eyeing on our house, waiting for me to return. God is our only hope. Please pray for us. I can see no way forward.”

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His father was released from a government hospital after receiving care for critical injuries for 16 days, and he is still being treated at a private medical center.

“I still have pain in my chest and breathing difficulty,” Mangu Podiyami said.

Aayatu Podiyami has worked as a daily laborer to survive since the Feb. 12 assault.

Pressure to Recant

The village leaders govern both Gupanpal and another village, and on Feb. 6 they summoned the two Christian families from Gupanpal and 10 others from the other village and ordered them to renounce their faith in Christ or be expelled, Aayatu Podiyami said.

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All 11 of the other Christian families returned to their animistic, tribal religion, he said.

“What have you decided?” the village head asked him. “Will you renounce your Christian faith or leave the village?”

“I told them, ‘Where will I go? This is my home,’” Aayatu Podiyami told Morning Star News. “I have been believing in Jesus for four years, and I want to continue believing in Him.”

Soon a mob of about 100 people attacked the Christians with axes, knives and sticks, he said. While Aayatu Podiyami fled to the jungle, his father locked himself in a room in their home.

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After hiding in the jungle for an entire day and night, Aayatu Podiyami filed a complaint at Tongpal police station. Officers summoned the village representatives to the police station on Feb. 8 and negotiated an agreement between residents and the village leaders, citing individual right to religious freedom. No formal complaint was registered.

On the morning of Feb. 12, however, villagers gathered in front of Aayatu Podiyami’s house and repeated the ultimatum, questioning him six times. His reply was the same as before, and they told him to relocate to another village.

“Where will I go?” Aayatu Podiyami responded. “My forefathers lived in this village, and I am born and brought up here. This is my home.”

The mob then assaulted Aayatu Podiyami, he said. His wife and children somehow managed to free him from the assailants, and Aayatu Podiyami again fled toward the jungle.

“About 15-20 men chased me for almost a mile,” he said. “I ran and ran as fast as I could while the men ran after me. I continued to run in the jungle, as the men intently searched for me in the woods. I had foot sores for a week into the incident.”

The mob turned to his father, Mangu Podiyami, and began beating him. They also assaulted those who tried to rescue him, including Aayatu Podiyami’s wife and other family members. Mangu Podiyami was beaten unconscious and left for dead.

Aayatu Podiyami hid in the jungle for several hours, shifting locations as he knew the villagers were hunting him.

“I was so worried for my father,” he said, his voice quavering. “I knew I had left him behind as a soft target. He is old and frail. He cannot run to save himself as I did. All the while in the jungle, I was not sure if my father survived the assault or was killed.”

India ranked 11th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2024 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

Continue reading this story on Christian Daily International-Morning Star News.

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