A file photo of murdered Pastor Abraham Topno whose beheaded body was found in a remote area of India's eastern Jharkhand state. (Photo supplied)
Maoist guerillas are believed to be behind the beheading murder of a Protestant pastor in a remote part of India's eastern Jharkhand state on May 2.
The beheaded body of Pastor Abraham Topno, 46, was found close to his isolated village Kubasal, his family members told ucanews.com.
His wife Hulda Topno said he left their village in a vehicle to drop off some visitors back to their home in a neighboring village. "On his way back suspected Maoist rebels stopped his vehicle and killed him," his wife said.
She believed that the Maoists targeted him because they suspected he was a police informer.
The pastor's nephew Aman Christochit said the killers spared the pastor's driver Ranga Singh Munda. The driver told Christochit that more than 25 people dressed in military fatigues and carrying weapons were waiting for the pastor on a deserted road.
"As soon as they saw the vehicle, they stopped it and took the pastor away," said Christochit.
The driver was blindfolded and later released, he said.
"The pastor had no enemies and he used to help all the villagers," Christochit said.
The nephew said his uncle, who was pastor of an Indian Pentecostal church, ran social and educational projects for villagers and did not discriminate on the basis of religion.
Although Jhakhand is among the states where Christians face persecution from right-wing Hindu groups, they seldom have problems with Maoist rebels who usually do not consider Christian missioners a threat to their movement.
More than 6,000 people have died during the rebels' 20-year fight across parts of India, although some sources say the death toll is double that.
Maoism, known locally as Naxalism, originated in West Bengal in 1967. Naxalites are the offshoot of a peasant movement inspired by Leninist-Maoist philosophy in Naxalbari village in West Bengal state in eastern India.
The movement began as a land seizure movement and developed into an armed struggle for "seizing power" at national level. It spread to other states in the late 1960s.
The Naxalites now operate in 60 districts in India, mainly in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa and West Bengal. Chhattisgarh is the epicenter of the conflict.