Relatives kill Christian woman with axe blows, stones in India

By Morning Star News |
Christians at burial of Bindu Sodi in Dantewada District, Chhattisgarh state, India, June 2024.
Christians at burial of Bindu Sodi in Dantewada District, Chhattisgarh state, India, June 2024. | (Morning Star News)

A tribal religion villager in India killed his 32-year-old niece with axe blows and stones last week, claiming she and her relatives had no right to ancestral farmland because they had become Christians, sources said.

Bindu Sodi of Toylanka village, Kotewarpara in Dantewada District, Chhattisgarh state had been the sole breadwinner for her mother, sister, younger brother, his wife and their 2-year-old child. The surviving relatives cannot return home due to death threats.

Two weeks before the killing, Bindu Sodi’s uncle, Chetu Sodi, and his son Kumma Sodi intruded onto land belonging to her younger brother, Bhima Sodi, sowing seeds on one-third of the parcel.

When Bhima Sodi submitted a complaint about the land takeover to Katekalyan police on the advice of the Christians’ pastor, Sudru Ram Telam, the station chief told him that he must go to the revenue department and the village registrar to resolve the issue, the pastor said.

The revenue department officer summoned Chetu Sodi, but he refused, Pastor Telam said. The officer then ordered the village registrar to visit Chetu Sodi’s house to check the claim and determine the rightful owner.

Bindu’s younger sister, Aarti Mandavi, said that the registrar faced opposition from Chetu Sodi.

“Uncle told the registrar that because we have all become Christians, we have no right over the ancestral property, and therefore he refused to sign the papers the registrar was carrying,” said Mandavi, a Christian who had lived with Bindu the past year.

The revenue officer ordered a notice to be served to Chetu Sodi to go to the collectorate office or else face action for non-compliance, Mandavi said.

“But it was all too late,” said Pastor Telam, saying Chetu Sodi and his son went ahead and cultivated another portion of Bhima Sodi’s land. “Bhima and the entire family were very disturbed at the way things were going. Bhima had no job; he took care of the farmland. They were not sure how long the revenue department proceedings would take.”

On the evening of June 24, Bhima Sodi, his wife Tulsi, Bindu Sodi and her mother decided to cultivate the only portion of their land that was remaining before the uncle took it over as well, Pastor Telam said. Someone saw them working their land and informed Chetu Sodi, who quickly arrived with his son.

With her mobile phone, Bindu Sodi recorded her uncle picking up stones and charging at them. Bhima Sodi and his mother hastily drove away from the field on the tractor, while Bindu Sodi and Tulsi Sodi fled on foot.

“While running, Bindu toppled over something and fell,” Mandavi told Morning Star News. “The mobile got thrown at a distance, and Tulsi turned and picked up the phone and approached to help Bindu, but the uncle and his son reached Bindu and began to assault her.”

Tulsi Sodi ran to hand the phone to Bhima Sodi, who called police. The station chief, however, said that it was getting dark and that they would come only the next morning, Mandavi said.

“Bhima called a Tribal Christian Forum, and their head in turn called the police station in-charge and insisted on them to go, explaining that the matter was serious,” Pastor Telam said.

By the time police arrived with an ambulance, Mandavi said, “the field was wet with Bindu’s blood.”

Chetu Sodi and his son assaulted Bindu Sodi, striking her with stones and an axe besides beating and kicking her, witnesses said. He and his son left her half dead and began to go after Bhima Sodi and his mother, Mandavi said.

“Bhima and mother hid themselves in someone’s house to save their lives,” she said. “When Uncle couldn’t find them, they went back and once again started to assault Bindu until she was dead.”

Mandavi said she was shocked at the brutality of the assault, which left Bindu Sodi with wounds on her face, head and neck.

“Some parts of her flesh from the cheeks were missing,” Mandavi said, sobbing. “She was hit by the axe several times at several places, they smashed her face with stones and brutally assaulted her until she bled to death on the field.”

Police sent her body for postmortem to Dantewada, where the family was also taken. The next day, police arrested Chetu Sodi. Officers arrested his son Kumma Sodi on June 29.

Police have registered First Information Report No. 30/2024 for murder (Section 302) and criminal acts by several persons with common intention (Section 34) against Chetu Sodi and Kumma Sodi.

A human rights activist in Delhi who requested anonymity said he called police on June 26 and learned about the FIR, but when he mentioned that there was opposition to Bindu Sodi’s Christian faith, “the officer responded by saying that the accused and victim are from the same family and they had a dispute over the land.”

Pastor Telam refuted the police’s claim, saying if the motives were only a family land dispute, then “why did the police not let us bury Bindu in the village? Why did they want to avoid any sectarian tension by allowing her a Christian burial inside the village? There is no dubiousness about the Christian persecution angle behind the murder.”

Police Pressure

After the burial on June 26, Pastor Telam told Morning Star News that police pressured the family to bury Bindu’s body 19 miles from her native village.

“Sadly, the police did not take a stand for us nor gave us police protection to conduct the burial in their homeland,” said Pastor Telam. “Bindu’s body was hastily transported from the mortuary to the burial place in Dantewada, and in no time the burial was conducted in the evening.”

He added that officers threatened to arrest him for objecting to the police’s refusal to honor the family’s wishes for a burial in the village.

“The police even threatened to put me in jail for four or five hours if I continued to encourage the family to demand the burial to be conducted in the village,” he said. “They said that I have poisoned the minds of the family members to conduct the burial in the village, and that is why the family is becoming stubborn about it.”

Bhima Sodi and his family continuously receive death threats from the villagers, who had been united in their desire to protect Kumma Sodi from arrest, Mandavi said. Before Kumma Sodi was arrested, villagers had said he would kill another member of the family if officers pursued him, she said.

“We are scared to go back,” Mandavi said from the family’s rented room nearly 20 miles outside the village. “We will stay here for some days till the matter is settled.”

Bindu Sodi was the only income-earning member of the family, said the pastor. Mandavi said her sister had taken over providing for the family after their father’s death and “never married, because she had to feed so many members.”

Bindu Sodi had taken a job as a teacher at the village’s government-sponsored child and mother care center under the Integrated Child Development Scheme.

Shewas the first person from the Toylanka village to accept Christ, Pastor Telam said.

“It is because of her evangelism that eight more families in that village came to Christ,” he said. “She was a great evangelist of our church.”

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. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position worsened after Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power.

The hostile tone of the 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 since Modi took power in May 2014, religious rights advocates say.

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