HYDERABAD, India (Morning Star News) – Police in Jharkhand, India refused to register a complaint about an attack that sent Christians to the hospital for treatment, while officers in another area falsely accused the victims’ relatives in an assault that left a woman unconscious, sources said.
A mob of about 400 animists of the tribal Sarna religion tore down parts of a church building under construction in Budhakaman village, West Singhbhum District of Jharkhand state, on May 10 and attacked Christians at the site, according to Suman Sinku, wife of the church pastor.
“They abused the Christians present there in extremely derogatory language,” Sinku told Morning Star News. “They held Suraj Chatomba and punched his jaws and back. The assailants then knocked another Christian, Muni Chatomba, to the ground and kicked her on her face and upper body.”
Another Christian woman, Bijayanthi Chatomba, ran over to rescue her but was struck in the nose with enough force for it to bleed, Sinku said.
“The mob forcefully held a female Christian, stripped off her clothes including her inner garments, leaving her half-naked, and continued punching her face,” Sinku told Morning Star News. “They thumped Shiromani Chatomba’s chest.”
Christians phoned police about the attack, which began shortly after 11 a.m., and officers showed up at about 2:30 p.m. and dispersed the mob, she said.
Village elders had summoned Christians to a meeting at 7 a.m. to question them about construction of the church building, but church members waited for three hours and no officials showed up, Sinku said. After the Christians had returned home, a mob formed at the meeting venue, ignoring social distancing norms to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, and then went to the church site to attack, she said.
The next morning, May 11, Sinku and others accompanied the injured Christians to the Jagannathpur police station, where officers refused to register cases against the assailants, she said.
“Police insisted that the villagers also must be allowed to share their grievances before deciding if cases must be registered against them,” she told Morning Star News. “We waited for the village elders, but nobody turned up.”
At last one Sarna representative showed up carrying his child in his arms, she said.
“The station house officer kept delaying the matter, so I had reminded him that as a law- abiding officer he must accept the victims’ complaint and must ensure that necessary action is taken against the assailants,” Sinku said. “But he tried to suppress the matter, and his driver harassed the victims mentally, abusing them in filthy language.”
Upon receiving information about the attack from Pastor Sudarshan Sinku and his wife, the Jharkhand Legal Aid Cell coordinator for Alliance Defending Freedom India, Sandeep Tigga Oraon, helped the injured Christians send a complaint to the West Singhbhum District Superintendent of Police, she said.
The village elders told the Christians to show certificates as evidence they had renounced the Sarna religion and had accepted Christianity, Sinku said. Village chiefs in the area assume arbitrary powers to deny tribal benefits to people who have left the traditional tribal religions, a source who requested anonymity said.
“There have been instances where the village chief refused to enroll the Christians converted from indigenous groups as members of the village,” the source said. “He would deny them residential and tribal status, making it difficult for them to apply for government subsidies, benefits for lower-income groups and also for higher education.”
Area village chiefs also send young adults to Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) training sessions to develop a Hindu nationalist mindset to oppose Christian and Muslim minorities, he added.
On May 31, the tribal animists returned and set the church building cross on fire, and police later summoned both parties to the police station, Sinku said. Village chief Vignesh Tiriya again told the Christians to produce certificates to prove their Christian faith, she said.
“At the police station, I once again questioned the police if they were aware about the constitutional provisions for religious freedom and the special provisions for Scheduled Tribes,” Sinku said. “The inspector seemed clearly annoyed, asked me to leave the room where the discussion was going on and attempted to effect a compromise without listening to the Christians’ pleas.”
Morning Star News tried to reach the police inspector of Jagannathpur police station, but officers there were unavailable.
Also in Jharkhand state, relatives of a woman beaten unconscious for refusing to renounce Christ learned on May 31 that police had falsely accused Christian family members in order to protect Hindu extremist assailants, they said.
Hindu extremists had stormed into the home of the Christian woman, 23-year-old Reena Kumari, took her outside and pressured her to renounce Christ, relatives said. The six upper-caste Hindus attacked Kumari in Bichagara village, Khunti District, on April 16, her mother Phulmani Devi said.
“They were after her that night tormenting her, ‘Will you leave Christian faith or not?’” the 61-year-old Devi said. “They badgered her.”
The next morning, the six Hindu extremists intruded into the family’s home and dragged Devi, her husband and three daughters out and presented them before the village council, she said.
Officials demanded that Kumari sign a document pledging to refrain from attending church services and telling anyone about Christ, Devi said. Under immense pressure from the village elders, she said, her daughter agreed to sign it but balked at their subsequent demand that her parents and family also had to sign, she said.
“My daughter told them that she had signed it and that should be enough, and that they must not force our family to sign it,” Devi told Morning Star News. “They went on to angrily hold her by her hair and punched her on her back and head.”
Reena Kumari’s brother, Suraj Kerketta, also witnessed the assault.
“They beat up my sister very badly, so that she fell unconscious,” Kerketta told Morning Star News. “We took her home, and in a short while we found that she suffered severe blows and must be taken to the hospital.”
A relative took Kerketta to the police station to file a complaint against the assailants, but an officer there said he was writing too slowly, snatched the paper from him and began writing it, he said.
“I dropped out of school to earn a livelihood from daily wages and support my parents,” Kerketta said. “I had no time to argue with the officer, as my sister was growing very weak. I rushed out of the police station to drop my sister at government hospital. Doctors told us that she had suffered internal injuries. A CAT-scan was done on her, but the medical staff refused to show the reports. They told us that they would only submit in the court directly.”
Kumari was hospitalized until May 28 and is still unwell, Devi said.
“Her head aches if she talks for a few minutes,” she said. “She also is unable to chew food, I am feeding her semi-solid food. She is fainting every now and then. We don’t know anything about her health. The doctors have not shared anything with us.”
On May 31, Devi and Kerketta went to the Khunti District Court as the case they had filed had come up before a judge. They were forbidden from passing through the court gates due to coronavirus restrictions, Devi said, but they noticed that police had made false accusations in their report.
“The police had noted names of our relatives who were actually helping us rescue our daughter from beatings as the accused in the case,” Devi told Morning Star News. “The next hearing is on June 15. We are hoping to bring this to the notice of the judge that the police wrongfully framed our relatives also in this case.”
Police at the Karra station were not available for comment.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom on April 28 urged the U.S. State Department to add India as a “Country of Particular Concern” to its list of nations with poor records of protecting religious freedom.
India is ranked 10th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position has worsened since Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.