Pastor Shankar Yalam was the Number 2 target on the “Most Wanted” list of India’s communist Naxalite guerrillas. When he was brutally murdered on March 17, 2022, his enemies believed they had eliminated one of their strongest Christian opponents.

But according to Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, the communist Naxalite guerrillas only succeeded in raising up and emboldening his replacement.  

Pastor Shankar’s eldest son, Gopal, sensed God’s call to take up his father’s work and continue proclaiming the gospel and growing the church,” says Representative Foley 

“After the death of my father,” Gopal told Voice of the Martyrs, “my relationship with God has become even more intimate.” Gopal considered moving to a safer area, but the example of his father persuaded him to stay. “If I remain in such a challenging place,” he said, “I will be able to bring many more into the kingdom and I will continue the legacy of my father.” 

According to Representative Foley, no one who knew Shankar when he was young would have imagined that he would become a bold martyr who died in faithful witness to Christ 

“Shankar grew up as a Hindu,” says Representative Foley. “He split his time between working his own fields and traveled from place to place as a seasonal field worker. He ended up spending all his money on alcohol and gambling.” 

According to Representative Foley, in 2002 Shankar began to experience stomach pain and unsuccessfully sought relief through visits to many doctors. Through the advice of a neighbor, she says, he and his wife Kamla found a Christian pastor in another town.  

The pastor prayed with the couple, and Shankar’s pain was completely gone,” says Representative Foley. Shankar and Kamla placed their faith in Christ. 

“From that moment,” Kamla told Voice of the Martyrs, “we both decided to serve Jesus.”  

Pastor Shankar’s wife (second from the right) and children continue to follow in his footsteps. His son Gopal (in a blue shirt) leads the local church, while Pawan (standing) pursues a law degree. Pastor Shankar’s portrait is visible on the wall behind the family.

According to Representative Foley, the pastor reminded Shankar that with being a faithful follower of Christ comes persecution. Accepting the risk, Shankar decided to seek training to become an ordained pastor. 

Pastor Shankar rode a bicycle — often over 20 miles — to preach and teach, establishing and nurturing a large network of house churches,” says Representative Foley. “Through his travels he learned the cost of following Christ, and he diligently taught the members of these churches what he himself was learning. He urged them to stand firm and remain faithful witnesses for Christ. 

Pastor Shankar’s wife, Kamla, told Voice of the Martyrs that Shankar also had a reputation for defending Christians facing persecution. “He was outspoken for the rights of the Christian community,” Kamla explained. “He would educate other pastors and encourage them to continue ministry without fear.”  

In November 2021, this advocacy work led to a series of meetings with the local village council. According to Representative Foley, in those meetings Hindu nationalists and tribal leaders demanded that local Christians return to their first religion. Pastor Shankar defended the Christians’ right to choose their own faith.  

Pastor Shankar’s son, Gopal, believes those who lost the dispute were the ones who later plotted his father’s murder. “These Hindu leaders falsely accused my father of being a police informant,” he told Voice of the Martyrs. “They also claimed he was spying on the Naxalite group and turning villagers against them.” 

Kamla remembers her husband Pastor Shankar not only as a devoted husband and father but also as a man committed to God’s Word and the growth of the church. Pastor Shankar’s portrait is on the wall behind Kamla.

Representative Foley says that the Naxalites, who have a strong presence in the state where Shankar planted churches, terrorize communities and suppress opposition with violence. “They especially target pastors,” says Representative Foley. Even Hindu nationalist groups, who are opposed to the Naxalite cause, encourage the Naxalites’ persecution of Christians to serve their own goal of creating a purely Hindu culture in India. 

According to Representative Foley, in early 2022 a leaflet appeared in the village, naming 22 Christians who were on the Naxalites’ “Most Wanted” list. “Pastor Shankar was Number 2 on their list,” says Representative Foley. “But being one of the Naxalites’ most wanted didn’t keep Shankar from his work. He told his family and his congregation that he expected to be attacked. He also told them about the hope he had in Christ. 

“He always said that we are Christ’s witnesses, and the day we are persecuted we will become even a stronger witness,” Pastor Shankar’s wife Kamla said. “And our faithfulness may cause people around us to search for Jesus.” 

On March 17, 2022, Pastor Shankar heard someone calling him from the courtyard of his house. As he walked outside, six masked men started shouting insults against his Christian faith,” says Representative Foley. “They struck Shankar in the face, bound his arms behind his back and forced him to kneel. After one attacker slashed him across the back of the neck with a knife and another fired two shots into his chest with a handgun, the masked men began to run away. But one of them returned and stabbed the pastor in the heart. 

Kamla told Voice of the Martyrs that she rushed out of the house and held her husband’s head on her lap as he whispered a final prayer. 

“For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21),” is written on Pastor Shankar’s grave.

Witnesses say that more than a thousand people attended Pastor Shankar’s funeral. Speaking at the burial service, Pastor Shankar’s wife Kamla gave testimony about the power of staying committed to Christ in the face of suffering. “As believers, we have to carry our cross,” she said, “and because of doing so we will see that many people will come to know Jesus and worship him.” She told Voice of the Martyrs that Hebrews 10:39 (“But we are not of those that shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls”) sustained her in the period following her husband’s martyrdom.  

Shankar’s younger son, Pawan, had decided to pursue law studies because of his father’s commitment to justice,” says Representative Foley. “Pawan says his father’s teaching about forgiveness is giving him the strength to forgive his father’s murderers. 

Representative Foley says the congregations planted by Pastor Shankar now have a new shepherd: Pastor Shankar’s eldest son, Gopal. “The churches have remained united and have grown since his murder,” says Representative Foley 

Pastor Shankar’s widow Kamla told Voice of the Martyrs that she longs for all the villagers in those communities to hear the gospel and experience its transforming power. She asks for prayer that the churches her husband planted and nurtured will continue to grow and will not respond in fear if they suffer severe persecution. “Do not turn back when you must face persecution,” she said. “During this time, you will grow very close to God!” 

Individuals interested in learning more about Christian persecution in India and Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s support of churches and families of martyrs there can visit 

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