Indian History of Christian Martyrdom


Who is a Martyr?

The word Martyr serves Christian traditions and originates from the term “witness”, as in the embodiment of faith. A martyr is someone who dies for their beliefs and for defending a cause.

Should all Christians desire to become Martyrs’? What does the Bible say? 

The Bible applauds faithful believers who pay the ultimate price for their witness. Stephen was granted a glorious vision of heaven before he died, and in this vision, he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father (Acts 7:56), as though waiting for Stephen in an attitude of honor for Stephen’s faithful service. Jesus pronounced a blessing upon those who were persecuted for His name: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me” (Matthew 5:11). Clearly, the Biblical evidence points to the fact that those who are persecuted and suffer for their witness to Christ (including enduring death) are pleasing in God’s sight.

However, when Jesus says, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39), He is not calling for people to make an attempt to lose their lives. Rather, He is calling us to be willing to lose our lives for His sake.

Martyrdom is an expectation. Those who actively seek the path of martyrdom are not seeking it for the glory of God, but for their own glory. As the old saying goes, “the blood of the Martyrs’ is the seed of the church”. God’s purpose in martyrdom is the glorification of His name and the building up of His church.

Indian History of Christian Martyrdom

Since its earliest days, hundreds of thousands of Christians have been killed for their faith. History chronicles the lives, suffering and triumphant deaths of these Christian Martyrs’. 

The first two centuries are remembered as the age of persecution or martyrdom. 

All of Jesus’disciples except for John and Judas were martyred. Surely, Jesus could have given them all a peaceful death – that in itself is a Christian’s standard. Thomas the Apostle, was the first to set foot in India. He was killed by a spear in Mylapore, Madras, India in AD 72.  

Devasahayam Pillai (1712-1752) originally named Neelakandan Pillai at birth, was born into a Hindu family in the 18th century. He converted to Christianity which angered the Brahmin Chief Priest of the kingdom, the feudal lords and so he was martyred in 1752. 

Sadhu Sundar Singh (1889-1929), was a Sikh who became a Christian. He was ostracized by his family and thrown out. His heart was set towards Tibet and Nepal primarily because of the great challenges it presented against evangelism. Legend has it that he was martyred on his last journey to Tibet in 1929.

Indian Christians martyred post-Independence

In the 1990’s, three new Catholic converts were martyred in Assam for accepting a foreign religion.  

In 1994, three priests were savagely murdered and their Church bombed in the South Chotanagpur region.  

Early in 1995, five Franciscan nuns died near the border between Delhi and Ghaziabad. 

In February 1996, Sister Rani Maria was stabbed more than 40 times in broad day light and her body mutilated. 

In January 1999, Graham Stuart Staines, an Australian Christian missionary who, along with his two sons Philip and Timothy, was burnt to death by right-wing religious activists. For nearly 35 years, he lived and worked with some of the poorest Adivasi communities in Odisha, along with his wife.

In November 1999, in a hate campaign led by religious fundamentalists, Father Arul Das, a Catholic Priest was martyred. 

In 2016, among the galaxy of contemporary anti-Christian persecution, Bharat Ki Beti (Sis Esther), Pastor Yohan Maraiah, Pastor Chamu Purthy, Pastor Gurumurthy Madi, Pastor David Lugun and Pastor Abel Patadi– stand out like beacons. No death is in vain. 

Day in and day out, we continue to hear of brutal, horrific stories of persecution, torture and suffering. Not only are our brethren suffering physical and mental abuse, they are also being socially boycotted. A village collectively shuns the Christian, refusing to buy nothing from them, sell nothing, cutting off water supply, exchanging no words with them, showing them plainly that they are not wanted there. Life becomes so uncomfortable, with no source of income, that they voluntarily leave the society. Christian families are displaced; Christian homes are abandoned.