NEW DELHI (Morning Star News) – Several families are in hiding after tribal animists in Chhattisgarh state, India threatened to kill them for reporting a mob attack to police last week that sent 21 Christians to hospitals, sources said.
Armed with bamboo sticks, iron rods, bows and arrows and iron sickles, the large mob at 1 a.m. on Nov. 25 attacked a home and adjoining church hall in Chingrwaram village, Sukma District, where Christians had celebrated a child dedication the previous evening. Some 20-25 friends and family were sleeping in the home and another 25-30 in the church hall when the villagers, many of them drunk, attacked while accusing the Christians of converting people and celebrating with loud music.
“They beat up the children as well as the women who were cooking food outside,” said Laxman Mandavi, a 21-year-old survivor of the assault. “While the children were beaten up with hands and feet, the others were shot at with arrows and beaten up with iron rods.”
The assailants shot Mandavi’s father, the 50-year-old homeowner Madvi Muka, with arrows, leaving him wounded, and attacked Madkam Sanni with a sickle that left deep cuts between her fingers and fractured her hand, Mandavi said.
“It was complete mayhem, and people were running to save their lives,” another victim, 24-year-old Laxshu Madkam, told Morning Star News. “I received two cuts on my back. My motorbike was broken. The attackers also broke 10 more motorbikes. They pulled the petrol pipes out of 20 more bikes and let the fuel flow.”
Mandavi said that four of the assailants entered a room where they found a young Christian woman and attempted to rape her.
“The attackers surrounded an unmarried sister and tore her clothes attempting to rape her,” he told Morning Star News. “When she started screaming loudly, they dragged her outside and beat her black and blue. She sustained severe internal injuries.”
Mandavi said the assailants destroyed all grain in the storehouse, damaged the house and belongings inside it and scattered the food that was being prepared for the guests’ breakfast.
“They also alleged that we were converting people and influencing them to turn them to our faith,” he said.
Pastor Musaki Kosa, who leads the church that meets at the home, had attended the dedication along with about 80 others (COVID-19 restrictions in the area allow gatherings of up to 100 people). Like most of the nearly 50 people who were staying overnight at the home and church hall, he was asleep when the mob attacked.
“I was able to slip away just in time and hid myself behind the bushes at the edge of the field,” he said. “I was able to see the attack going on from there. They beat up people in a heartless and cruel way.”
Many of the guests escaped to the jungle to save their lives, including Mandavi.
“I heard noise from outside, and suddenly people came in the house – they were saying, ‘We will kill Madvi [his father] and Laxman [Mandavi] today,’” Mandavi said. “When I heard that they are planning to murder us, I slipped away through the back door. I ran to the jungle and stayed there for the rest of the night. I was alone and scared.”
Mandavi said his father had been receiving threats from villagers for two months.
“They planned to attack us, and nearly two months ago had even threatened that they will beat us,” he said. “We know and recognize everyone who attacked us. Our relationship with them has been cordial historically, but we suspect that outsiders have provoked them against us.”
The assault continued until after dawn.
“The attack went for a long time,” Pastor Kosa said. “It seemed like it would not end.”
Some survivors said they ran to the nearest Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) camp and asked for help, but CRPF soldiers refused to go with them, stating that it was night-time.
“The CRPF men said that, ‘Unless we get orders from our seniors, we cannot act,’” Mandavi said. “We made innumerable calls to the local police station, to personal mobile numbers, to the emergency numbers, but nobody answered our calls. Most of the personal numbers were turned off, and they did not come until 8 in the morning.”
Assuming it was safe to return, some guests who had fled returned to the church hall at about 6 a.m., only to walk into an ambush, Mandavi said.
“A few of us went back to see how things were, and others accompanied them,” he said. “They did not know that the attackers were waiting for whoever came back. All who went back to see the situation were roughed up very badly.”
A Christian who had not been at the prior evening’s dedication celebration, Madvi Madka, was among those who visited the church hall the next morning.
“Madvi Madka was beaten up so severely that his ribs have been broken, and he is unable to breathe properly,” Mandavi said. “His hand is broken, and he is hurt in the chest as well. He was taken to the hospital in a critical condition.”
Pastor Kosa said many sustained internal injuries and bruises, including at least 10 Christians with head injuries. Madi Chuki suffered a hip injury, and Muchaki Ungi injuries to his ribs and hands, he said.
“Nobody was spared,” Pastor Kosa said. “Christians were beaten ruthlessly to the extent that blood started to ooze out of the bodies.”
Police arrived at 8 a.m., after the assailants had fled, and called for ambulances, survivors said. Officers sent 21 injured Christians to different hospitals according to the nature of their injuries, though many did not receive even first aid, Pastor Kosa said. By evening of Nov. 25, hospitals had admitted 14 of them for treatment while seven were given first aid and discharged, he said.
Four of the most seriously injured were sent to Zila District Hospital Sukma, and two of those were further referred for hospital treatment in Jagdalpur, 62 miles away, he said. The two patients in Jagdalpur were discharged on Sunday (Nov. 29), though still in much pain, he said.
Several patients treated at the government hospital told Morning Star News their treatment was inadequate, as staff refused to take X-rays in spite of their serious injuries. They continued to remain in severe pain, they told Morning Star News through a translator.
“Madvi Madka was being taken to Lankapur in Odisha state to a private hospital for treatment on Dec. 2 and had even reached Malkangiri, Odisha, but the police inspector called us and insisted that he be called back and treated at the government hospital only,” Pastor Kosa told Morning Star News. “Now we are bringing him back. We do not know what to do. The injured are too scared to go to the government hospital for treatment.”
Portrayed as a ‘Brawl’
Madvi Bhima, brother of Madvi Muka, filed a First Information Report (FIR) on Nov. 25 against 16 identified assailants, and police registered a case under penal code sections for rioting, unlawful assembly, obscene acts, voluntarily causing hurt and criminal intimidation.
Attorney Amit Manwatkar, a volunteer for the Evangelical Fellowship of India’s Religious Liberty Commission, said police applied weak sections of the law, diminishing the seriousness of the attacks.
“A religiously motivated violent incident has been shown as a common brawl,” Manwatkar told Morning Star News.
Christians submitted a complaint to the district collector, superintendent of police and the local police station on Friday (Nov. 27) and met Sub-Inspector Ishwar Dhruv on Tuesday (Dec. 1) to express their fears of returning to the village.
Dhruv said officers arrested 16 people on Nov. 25-26 and released them on bail.
“In the present time, considering COVID, nobody is ready to keep them in jail,” Dhruv told Morning Star News. “We had not kept them in jail but had kept them in a secret place. We had got orders from above for the same.”
Special forces were deployed in the village for three days after the attacks, and he is patrolling the area every day, he said.
Dhruv denied that the assailants attempted to rape a Christian woman.
“Just because they are saying it, does not mean that the allegation is true,” he told Morning Star News. “They have to prove what they say.”
He also denied that injuries were serious.
“No ribs have been broken,” Dhruv said. “Ask them to show us the medical reports. We will add the relevant section in the FIR if such things have happened.”
District and police officials planned a meeting in the village for Wednesday (Dec. 2) to establish calm between the Christians and the tribal villagers. Eight of the attacked Christians went to the village to present their injuries before the administration along with medical reports, Pastor Kosa said.
“We got some X-Rays done from private laboratories and sent the reports with the Christians who have gone for the meeting,” he said.
Attorney Manwatkar said the villagers threatened to kill the Christians after they filed the police complaint, so about 25 Christians have taken refuge in Pastor Kosa’s house in another town, including the injured and their families.
“When we came to know about the need, we quickly contacted a local store and arranged for rations for 25 people to help them with food and daily needs,” Manwatkar said.
Other Christians have fled and taken refuge in the homes of brethren outside of the village. At this writing only four Christian families remained in Chingrwaram village, Pastor Kosa said.
He said he was grateful for the help received from the Evangelical Fellowship of India.
“They have helped with food expenses and other needs of the victims,” the pastor said.
Police appear keen to show that the attack resulted from a quarrel over the supposedly loud music at the dedication celebration, sources said.
Downplaying the attack, police officials have called it a clash in which only four people were injured. In the same vein, the chief minister of Chhattisgarh state has issued a plea “not to communalize the violence.”
There are other factors that indicate the attacks were religiously motivated “communal” violence. The assailants also attacked a Christian couple who were not even present at the dedication, breaking into their home, ransacking it and beating them, sources said.
The assailants beat another Christian who had gone to his field on the morning of Nov. 25 and was not present at the previous night’s function. The attackers searched for him and thrashed him, telling him they were beating him because he attends church, Mandavi said.
“There was another celebration on the same day in an adjoining village,” Mandavi said. “They had employed a DJ and were playing loud music throughout the night. We could hear the loud music all through the night as we were hiding in the jungle. The attackers seemed not disturbed at all by their loud music, but they attacked children [at the site of the dedication] who were playing songs from a single small speaker. It was an attack on us because of our faith and not because of sound.”
The village has only 15 homes that are Christian.
Trend of Violence
Attacks on Christians in Chhattisgarh and have become more frequent and intense.
Vijayesh Lal of the Evangelical Fellowship of India said that in the previous two years Chhattisgarh was not in the top five states where Christians were targeted.
“However, this year, 2020, things have changed,” he told Morning Star News. “In our half-yearly report highlighting atrocities on Christians, Chhattisgarh was at No. 2, following Uttar Pradesh, with 24 incidents. Attacks on Christians in the state especially in the Bastar area have been increasing.”
A fact-finding team of social and rights activists visited the Bastar region, which includes Sukma District, in October and concluded that attacks against Christians have increased there. Led by prominent activist Medha Patkar, the team included members of the Chhattisgarh Citizens for Joint Action Committee and the National Alliance of Peoples Movement.
National magazine Caravan in June highlighted persecution of Christians in Chhatttisgarh, describing how they have been pressured to reconvert to Hinduism and tribal religion.
“This trend is worrying, and if the government does not step in and protect religious minorities, uphold the law, and punish the offenders, it would be too late to prevent a large-scale attack against Christians in the state, particularly in the Bastar area,” Arun Pannalal, president of the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum, told Morning Star News. “Hindu, right-wing, fundamentalist organizations are behind this.”
Christians constitute 1.92 percent of the total population of the state, according to the 2011 Census.
India 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 been worse each year since Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.