Pastor Ch Prabhudas and his family were woken in the middle of the night by loud cries coming from fellow villagers outside.
The 63-year-old Protestant pastor exited his house to find his car on fire and the neighboring church that he preaches in set alight.
“The locals were trying to douse the fire with water buckets and put it out with sand bags,” Pastor Prabhudas said about the Sept. 9 incident. “Our hamlet is inaccessible to firefighters, so we had to put out the fire ourselves to save God’s house,” he said. The car was completely destroyed by the fire while the church was partially damaged.
Pastor Prabhudas, his wife, daughter and son have lived in Ponduru village in the south-eastern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh for 38 years. This is the worst incident they have encountered since living there.
“Though we have received threats and intimidation from extremist Hindu groups, we never expected that such a thing would happen to us,” he said.
The next morning after the fire, Pastor Prabhudas said locals told him that some hardline Hindus had set the fire using kerosene.
“Local sources said these nefarious elements were also planning to burn down my own house but were interrupted when they were seen by locals,” he said.
Jessu Marri, a church member, said that a case has been filed with the local police station. “A few police personnel came to the scene and recorded statements from locals, but no one has been arrested so far,” he said.
Marri said that after the fire incident there is a mounting sense of fear among the village’s Christian community. “We don’t know if at any time that our houses could be attacked and set on fire like what happened to the church,” Marri said.
Pastor Prabhudas’s son Jeevan Joti, who is doing ministry with his father, said the Hindu-majority village has about 60 Christian households.
“We face no threat from local villagers,” Jeevan said. “Even if we profess different faiths, we live in peace and harmony here but there are few extremist groups who are creating fault lines and sowing the seeds of discord between Christians and Hindus.”
Jeevan and his father travel through rural areas preaching the Gospel and in the past several years they’ve experienced an increase in intimidation from Hindu extremist groups.
“They sometimes call us agents of foreign elements out to pollute Indian culture; miscreants contaminating the pure Hindu minds. They are trying to instigate people against us,” Jeevan said.
“If any villager is now seen attending a prayer service at our church, that person is attacked, and his family is ostracized by the Hindu groups,” he said.
Pastor Prabhudas says that days before the fire incident at the church took place, he and his son was attacked by a mob in a village where they had gone to preach.
“There was a Hindu priest who mobilized more than 50 people against us and we were attacked from all sides. It was the intervention by few locals who saved us from getting lynched,” he said.
Hate attacks against Christians have become a new normal in India. There has been a rise in cases of attacks against churches and pastors being reported almost daily recently. Last month, more than 31 incidents of violence against Christians in India were reported with 18 of them taking place in the last week of August alone.