Bans on Christian Activity in Indian State Escalating Into Violence Against Believers

IndiaNEW DELHI (Morning Star News) Attacks on Christians in Chhattisgarh state have raised suspicion that local officials are collaborating with Hindu extremists, church leaders said.

Local officials on Saturday summoned area Christians to a meeting in Madota village, Bastar District, on the pretext of resolving conflict over bans in the district on missionaries and non-Hindu religious activity. Dozens of villages in the district passed such bans earlier this year.

Christians in Madota village gathered at the designated spot all day, but nobody turned up, church leaders said. Armed Hindu extremists wearing saffron bands arrived in the evening, accused the Christians of converting Hindus and beat more than 15 of them; 12 were taken to hospitals for treatment, including seven who were seriously injured, church leaders said.

“Some of the injured Christians were admitted in a hospital in Jagdalpur, and some local Christians have also been forced to go into hiding due to the constant threats they received from the right-wing groups,” Bhupendra Kohra told Morning Star News.

Early in the morning, local officials had summoned villagers, with the aid of drum beats, to assemble in Madota to discuss the district administration’s response to Christians’ petition to the Bilaspur High Court contesting the ban on missionaries and non-Hindu religious activity in Bastar villages, said Arun Pannalal, president of the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum (CCF).

He accused Bastar District authorities of working “hand-in-glove” with Hindu nationalists, who equate being born in India with irrevocable adherence to Hinduism.

“The district authorities, along with some right-wing elements, are also pressuring us to withdraw the petition filed in the high court against the ban on the entry of non-Hindu missionaries in Bastar,” Pannalal said. “Now our writ is pending in the high court. We see this latest attack as a pressure tactic.”

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Bans by various Bastar District villages on non-Hindu religious activity were passed in July and May with the aim of prohibiting conversions to Christianity, citing alleged “forced” conversions.

The previous Sunday (Oct. 19), Hindu extremists attacked a worship meeting in Madota. A mob of about 30 people shouted chants for Christians to stop a worship service, according to religious freedom advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom-India (ADF-India). Five Hindu extremists then entered the church building and began beating the Christians, including women and children.

The assailants later placed a picture of the Hindu god Hanuman at a water pump near the church building and forbade Christians from drawing water from it. On the same day, in a similar attack in Farasgoan, Bastar District, a mob of 25 Hindu extremists beat Christians at their Sunday worship meeting. The church filed a police complaint, but no action had been taken at press time.

The next day (Oct. 20) in the same district in the Tokapal area, a Christian identified only as Laxman was beaten unconscious for following Christ by his three brothers, according to ADF-India.

“The Hindu extremists were behind the attack,” Akhilesh Edgar, area church leader, told Morning Star News.

ADF-India reported that the Christian remained unconscious for 24 hours. At press time he was still in the hospital.

Similarly, in Mahasamund District, Hindu extremists loitered near the premises of the Believers’ Church the first three Sundays of the month, threatening to harm church members if they continued to attend worship services. Area Christian leaders sought police protection.

The Hindu extremists had attacked a church building and adjacent cemetery on Oct. 1, breaking a cross on the boundary wall and a gate lock and stoning the tin roof of the cemetery shed, reported the Evangelical Fellowship of India. Two days later, the extremists broke another cross on the wall of the church, damaged outside lights and wrote, “Jai Shree Ram [Victory to Lord Ram]” on the church wall.

The head of the Religious Liberty Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of India had written to federal 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 Vijayesh Lal, national director of the commission.

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.

Chhattisgarh state is 94.7 percent Hindu and 1.9 percent Christian, according to Operation World.

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