Police in India's remote Tripura state are backing away from earlier statements that the Christian faith of a convert from Hinduism was a factor in his murder.
A story by Morning Star News reported that days after the beheaded body of 35-year-old Tapas Bin was found in a stream in the Teliamura area of West Tripura District on May 25, police told Indo-Asian News Service (IANS) that his father-in-law and a tribal sorcerer had killed him for refusing to leave Christianity.
Bin's father-in-law, Gobinda Jamatia, is part of an ethnic group that worships Hindu deities while retaining tribal rites and rituals.
Morning Star News said Jamatia's daughter, Jentuly, had married Bin after converting to Christianity while Bin was tutoring her academically. She told police that her father opposed their marriage, had been pressuring Bin to convert back to Hinduism, and that because of her own faith he might also try to kill her and her one-year-old son, according to IANS.
The Investigation Officer (IO) of the case, however, told Morning Star News that the low economic status of Bin, a private tutor from Bihar state who was not of the same ethnicity, was the motive.
"Nothing in our investigation thus far suggests that he was killed because he was a Christian," Ashish Sarkar said by phone from Tripura, one of three small states of India east of Bangladesh.
Jamatia is an affluent state government employee, while Bin was from a poor family, Sarkar said.
Morning Star News reported local police official Chandan Saha had told IANS that preliminary investigations showed Jamatia and the sorcerer killed Bin after the Christian refused to reconvert to Hinduism. Saha could not be reached due to telephone connectivity problems in the region.
Police had also told IANS that Bin's father-in-law and the sorcerer, Krishnapada Jamatia (not related), conducted a ritual before killing the Christian. But Sarkar, the IO, told Morning Star News that the investigation did not indicate a ritual took place before the killing.
"The main accused, Gobinda Jamatia, had engaged the sorcerer ever since his daughter married Bin," the IO said. "But the sorcerer could not help throug h witchcraft."
The IO may be under pressure from tribal religious leaders to deny the religious dimension among other motives for the slaying. A more senior officer from the Teliamura police station admitted to Morning Star News that a tribal ritual did take place before the murder.
Morning Star News reported Teliamura Police Inspector Pranab Sen Gupta, who is assisting the IO in the case, said that Krishnapada Jamatia and Bin's father-in-law had conducted the prayer ritual, possibly suggesting a religious motive in the killing.
The sorcerer is in custody and has reportedly confessed to the murder, while Bin's father-in-law is on the run.
Sarkar acknowledged that before they married about three years ago, Bin was tutoring Jentuly and that she subsequently became a Christian, the only one in her family.
"However, religion is not an issue in this state," Morning Star News reported he added.
The IO seemed to be hinting that anti-Christian violence in India is attri butable mostly to the divisive politics of Hindu nationalist groups, strongly opposed by Communist-led Tripura state. The Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI-M, has been governing Tripura since 1993.
Morning Star News said Sarkar acknowledged that the sorcerer, arrested on May 29, aided in the slaying.
"Gobinda Jamatia sought the help of his friend, Krishnapada Jamatia, and promised to give him a lot of money in return," Morning Star News reported Sarkar said. "But Gobinda absconded without paying anything to the sorcerer."
Sarkar added that the wife of the slain Christian was not under any threat.
Aashima Samuel of the Delhi-based Evangelical Fellowship of India, which has local offices in India's northeastern states, told Morning Star News that it is possible that the economic status and the ethnicity of the murdered Christian could have been factors in the killing.
The accused are Jamatia, the fourth largest tribal or aboriginal group of Tripura, while Bin was a migrant from the eastern state of Bihar, he said. Samuel added that it appears to be a complex case.
Sorcery is prevalent in Tripura, Morning Star News said State Chief Minister Manik Sarkar admitted last month.
Morning Star News said Jamatias are protective of their culture and view Christian conversions as an attempt to destroy their distinctive identity. There have been tensions between Jamatias and a separatist, outlawed militant organization, the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT), allegedly supported and led by Christians. Segments of the Jamatia population believe NLFT is imposing Christianity on them.
Mainline churches deny supporting the NLFT. Christians make up 3.2 per cent of the state's 372,451 people, according to Operation World; the state's population is 85.6 per cent Hindu, including tribal animists.
Morning Star News is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation whose mission is to inform those in the free world, and in countries violating religious freedom, about Christians worldwide who are persecuted for the ir faith.