MUMBAI, India – A Christian pastor was murdered in India days after being threatened by Hindu nationalists.

Yalam Sankar, 50, was stabbed to death on March 17 by five men who dragged him out of his house in Angampalli village in the Bijhapur district of Chhattisgarh state, in central India.

According to local Christians, the pastor had been warned by Hindu nationalists against preaching Christianity and his life had been threatened.

Sankar is survived by his wife, two sons, and grandchildren. He was a former sarpanch, or village leader, and was known for defending Christians against Hindu nationalists.

Police are claiming the pastor was killed by Naxals, the local Maoist militants, who suspected him of being a police informer.

“As per preliminary information, a group of suspected armed Naxals entered the house of local pastor Yalam Shankar and dragged him out. They attacked him with sharp-edged weapons, killing him on the spot,” a police official said.

Police say a handwritten note was recovered in which the Maoists claimed responsibility for the murder.

However, Father Vincent Ekka, the head of the Department of Tribal Studies at the Jesuit-run Indian Social Institute in New Delhi, said that it is common to allege someone was a Naxal or police informer when a revenge killing takes place.

“Usually, the Naxals ascertain the facts before taking any action. In the case of Pastor Yallam Shankar it seems, he was only suspected of being a police informer. Secondly, the police department denies any contact or association with the pastor,” he told Crux.

“Another angle to the whole episode indicates hatred and revenge from the fringes of anti-Christians. In the Bastar region there is growing violence and hatred against Christians, be they the tribals, pastors, or missionaries,” Ekka said.

“It could also be that the perpetrators are not Naxals, but that under the garb of Naxals, anti-Christian fringes may also get involved in the killing of the pastor Shankar and by doing it they kill two birds with the same arrow. In all cases the social dynamics and peace in the community is disrupted,” he said.