Christian Beaten into Coma by Tribal Animists in Odisha State, India
A young mother and her two children were staring at her husband as he lay unconscious after a mob of 60 villagers in eastern India had stormed their home and beaten him with wooden sticks.
“The children and I tried to wake him up – we thought he had fainted – but there was no response,” Bhimeshwari Sodi told Morning Star News. “We cried out for help, but there was nobody to help us. The neighbors said that he was dead.”
The animist mob, worshippers of the gods of their tribal religion, beat 30-year-old Kama Sodi unconscious in Odisha state’s Kodalmetla village, Malkangiri District on the morning of March 12, she said. They had first attacked him the night before, surrounding his house as he, his wife and children were praying as they would before bed, Bhimeshwari Sodi said.
Animist villagers threw belongings of Sodi family out of their home in Odisha state, India. (Morning Star News)
“I was able to protect my two small children from their beatings, but my husband was in their clutches,” the 26-year-old Sodi said. “They were beating him very brutally.”
Her children are ages 3 and 6. Sodi pleaded with the assailants to stop and cried for help, but they continued beating him, vowing that they would kill him, she said.
“Even while suffering in their hands, my husband refused to give up his faith,” Sodi told Morning Star News. “They declared that they would allow a chance for him to live if he declared that he had renounced Christ. But my husband declined their offer and chose to suffer.”
During the second attack the morning of March 12, she screamed at the assailants that he would die if they didn’t stop, she said.
“They had beaten him very badly once again,” Sodi said. “They went on until they were sure that he shattered on the floor and stopped responding.”
The assailants threw the family’s food grains and belongings outside and told them to leave the village, she said.
Christian leaders arrived to find Sodi still lying unconscious, area pastor Timuthiyus Elijah told Morning Star News.
“The children and his wife sat around him weeping,” Pastor Elijah said.
Pastors from Erbanpally’s New Bethesda Jesus Christ Tribal Ministries arranged for Kama Sodi to be taken to Malkangiri Government Hospital, he said.
Doctors told Bhimeshwari Sodi that her husband had suffered severe blows to the head and had fallen into a coma, and that they were unsure when he would regain consciousness, she said.
“By God’s grace, he regained consciousness after nearly one and a half days,” she told Morning Star News. “But the doctors insisted that he must be hospitalized for at least a week.”
Doctors told her he had blood clots in his brain, would need extra care at home and should not return to work until he fully recovered, she said. Sodi said she spent her last 2,000 rupees (US$26) on medicines and enough food to feed the children for the week they spent at the hospital.
She had hoped to work extra hours at others’ fields to sustain the family while he recovered, but soon after his release from the hospital, the government announced a lockdown on March 22 to contain the novel coronavirus, she said.
“By the time we reached home, most of our belongings which the assailants had thrown outside our home were missing,” Sodi said. “Mud had piled up on food grains they threw out.”
The small plot of land yields 20 to 30 bags of food grains, and what they are unable to sell they store as food for the remainder of the year, she said. Now those grains are gone, and villagers are ostracizing them economically, she said.
“Nobody wants to offer us work, and we are happy with whatever God provides us,” Sodi said. “I’m washing the mud off the few food grains I could gather from the floor and am cooking them for the children. My husband and I are having whatever leftovers there are once a day. The rest of the time, we would prefer to starve. If the children eat and go to sleep, we would be contented in that.”
Village women try to stop her from drawing water at the common bore-well, she said.
“They throw my pots aside and fill theirs first,” Sodi said. “Yet I would stand there patiently for all of them to draw water. The women would look at me, spit and turn their faces aside when I pass by. They hate us.”
A representative of legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom India has urged high police officials to investigate the attacks impartially.
Though socially and economically ostracized, the family remains at their home in Bhimeshwari Sodi’s ancestral village.
“My husband and I close the doors and pray quietly; we are not afraid of tomorrow,” Sodi said. “We are socially banished from this village and have been treated as untouchables. They do not allow us to even walk on the road, and they believe that if we walk on it, it would be defiled. But our Lord is with us. We are seeking comfort in spending time with Lord Jesus.”
Before coming to Christ, she had given birth to three children who died in infancy, she said.
“The relatives and kinsmen told us that the gods were angry with my husband and me, and that I had been cursed,” Sodi said. “After a while, my husband also fell sick and was bed-ridden. The tribal religious heads told us that he would not survive. But the Lord saved him.”
Kama Sodi heard the gospel from an area pastor and immediately put his faith in Christ, she said.
“He started sharing with me also about Jesus Christ, and I had also put my belief in Him,” Sodi told Morning Star News. “We prayed for God to bless us with a child and take away our shame. God blessed us with two lovely children.”
Pastor Elijah said that Kama Sodi was sharing about Christ with other kinsmen, and three families became Christian, upsetting the villagers.
“They had opposed us for conducting worship in Kodelmetla village, and even today the village does not have a church,” he said. “The three Christian families travel about nine miles (15 kilometers) to the church in Erbanpally.”
Bhimeshwari Sodi said that just as villagers have had discouraging words for her in the past, they told her she had lost her husband when he was beaten unconscious.
“But I have put faith in Lord Jesus,” she said. “I have no money or food to feed my children, but I have Jesus, and He will provide for us.”
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.