NEW DELHI (Morning Star News) – Church leaders in India have asked national and Chhattisgarh state officials to reverse a ban on non-Hindu religious activity that more than 50 villages have reportedly adopted.
The head of the Religious Liberty Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) wrote to Union and Chhattisgarh officials on July 10 that the bans in the Bastar District villages, including some that include a prohibition against non-Hindus entering the hamlets, could lead to large-scale persecution of Christians and other minority communities.
“The government must reverse the decisions of these [villages] immediately to restore the confidence of the Christian community in the state, which is under considerable stress in recent days,” wrote the Rev. Vijayesh Lal, national director of the commission.
The resolutions were passed under the pretext of stopping alleged forcible conversions of Hindus. Belar village banned all non-Hindu activities in a council meeting on July 6, after about a dozen villages adopted a similar resolution in Sirisguda village on May 10 that included a ban on non-Hindu missionaries.
“To stop the forced conversion by some outsiders religious campaigners and to prevent them from using derogatory language against Hindu deities and customs, the Sirisguda Gram Sabha [Village Council] bans religious activities such as prayers, meetings and propaganda of non-Hindu religions,” the resolution states.
Suresh Yadav, president of the Hindu extremist umbrella group Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP, or World Hindu Council) in Bastar District, told reporters that more than 50 village councils had adopted resolutions banning outside missionaries.
“This resolution goes against the ethos of the constitution, which guarantees to everyone the right to equality and freedom of religion,” said attorney Tehmina Arora of religious rights group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) of India. “The state authorities should not discriminate against anyone because of their religious beliefs.”
At a joint press conference on July 11, Christian organizations demanded revocation of the bans, threatening to go to court against them. Arun Pannalal, president of the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum, said the ban was a blatant violation of fundamental rights enshrined in India’s constitution.
“The state government should scrap it,” he said, adding that the resolution in Sirisguda village resulted in the denial of food rations to 52 Christian families.
After two months of doing without the government food rations for adhering to their faith, the impoverished Christian families on June 16 approached government officials for help, but Hindu extremists gathered and beat them with clubs and stones, shouting, “There is no place for Christians in the village.”
The attack sent 10 Christians, including two women, to a hospital with severe injuries, according to the EFI.
“Christians in India are frequently coming under attack from various quarters on the false pretext of forcible conversions, and the state must make every effort to secure the rights of all citizens in India,” said the Rev. Akhilesh Edgar, community relations manager for ADF-India and a church leader in the state. “These resolutions must be immediately withdrawn, and the state should take strict measures so that non-state actors are prevented from inciting violence.
Chhattisgarh state recorded the highest number of attacks against the Christians in the first six months of this year with more than 10, according to the Evangelical Fellowship of India.
In his letter to Chhattisgarh Chief Secretary Vivek Dhand, Lal urged him to intervene in the case of Hindu extremists threatening to burn down the home of a Christian, Antu Ram of Kue Mari village near Keshkal, if he did not pay a fine of 2,000 rupees (US$33) for adhering to his faith. The extremists burned down his house even after he paid the fine.
“Today, Ram is living under a plastic sheet with his family that includes his three children and elderly parents,” Lal wrote. “I humbly request you to please intervene in his situation and provide him some relief and protection.”
Church leaders also reported that the VHP from Jagdalpur was threatening Christians in Gadiya, Parapur and Belar, warning them to cease worship or leave.
Such threats and harassment there, and the violence already seen in other villages, are the main causes of concern about the bans, which do not stipulate punishment for violation and are considered unenforceable.
The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party rules Chhattisgarh state, whose population is 94.7 percent Hindu and 1.9 percent Christian, according to Operation World.