Christians face threat, discrimination, boycott and harassment in a village in Chhattisgarh

May 22, 2016 by  
Filed under newsletter-india

Chhattisgarh, May 18, 2016: Hindu extremists incited a mob that targeted and assaulted Christians in the village of Katholi, located in Kanker District in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh. The Christians had to flee the village on 24 April along with their families in order to save their lives. Four days later they returned to their vandalised homes, after a formal reconciliation with the other villagers which had been brokered by the district authorities, but a night of rowdy death threats forced them to flee again. The district authorities intervened a second time and got a written undertaking from the villagers not to threaten or trouble the Christians. The Christians returned under police protection, but threats have re-started.

The ordeal for the Christians started when they were summoned to a public meeting on 24 April. Five Christian families living in the village were called for ‘peaceful talks’ by villagers who were protesting the non-participation of Christians in the collection taken for a Hindu festival celebrating the deity Shitala (Sheetala), an ancient folk deity widely worshipped by many faiths in India as the pox-goddess. She is the goddess of sores, ghouls, pustules and diseases.

Harassment of Christians have been going on in the village since the year 2013 when these families from the Gond tribe (animists) started to believe in Christ. According to reports, Christians have not been given access to water in the community and have to travel far distances to get water. They have also been prohibited from buying things from the local shops in Katholi and their children have been bullied regularly.

“They accused the Christians of annoying their goddess by not participating in the religious activities of the village,” said a local Christian leader to Barnabas Fund. “The peaceful talks promised did not go very peacefully as Christians were pressured and coerced to renounce Christianity and convert to Hinduism.”

He added, “When Christians refused to do so, the villagers present got infuriated and assaulted the Christians and chased them to their homes. Even women and children were beaten up in a merciless manner.”

The ordeal for the Christians did not end there. Soon, because of social pressure, nearly the entire village joined the mob and vandalised all the Christian houses in the village.

“The villagers led by Hindu extremists destroyed the grain storage of the Christians, damaged their properties all the while continuing to beat them with wooden sticks, fists and legs,” said the source.

“Two other Christian families who lived in a nearby village named Silbahar, about 2km from Katholi, had also been summoned for the meeting called by the Village Panchayat (Council) of Katholi, and they arrived during the assault and became a victim.”

“The Christians literally had to flee from the village to save their lives,” said the source.

The seven families (37 Christians in all including 10 women and 10 children) somehow managed to reach Bhanupratappur, a town 52 km from Katholi, where first aid was provided for the wounded in the Samudayik Swasthya Kendra (Community Health Centre).

“Six of them were badly hurt including one elderly who was hit on his ear and was impaired of hearing and a three-year-old girl who was hit by the wooden stick on her leg and had swollen leg due to which she was in much pain and could not walk,” said the source.

The families, after travelling the entire night on foot from Bhanupratappur, reached a place called Kaviti early next morning where they found shelter with other Christians for three days.

On 25 April, Christians representing all the families approached the police and a First Information Report was registered against six men in the Korar Police Station.

A case was registered under the following sections of the Indian Penal Code section – 147 (punishment for rioting), 294 (obscene act), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), and 506 (criminal intimidation).

“The district authorities intervened at this point and peace talks were held between the Christians and the villagers in which the villagers promised not to hurt or attack the Christians. Following the reconciliation, the seven Christian families returned to their homes after staying three days in Kaviti,” said the source.

“All the six men who were named in the FIR were arrested by the police and later on released on bail,” said Inspector Dwarika Shrivas, the Police Station In-charge, to Barnabas Fund.

However, on 28 April, when the families reached home they were targeted again. The villagers were angry that the Christians had filed a police complaint against them and were demanding that the Christians withdraw the complaint.

“The attackers threatened to kill the Christians if any of their men are arrested by the police because of their complaint. All through the night the attackers stood outside their houses shouting and threatening the families while the Christians sat in prayer all through the night until five in the morning when they were led by the Holy Spirit to secretly escape,” said the source.

The Christians then fled the village in order to save their lives and this time took shelter at Bhanupratappur which is the nearest town to Katholi.

The district authorities once again intervened and obtained a written undertaking from the villagers that they would not threaten or cause trouble to the Christians. The Christian families were taken back to the village under police protection on 3 May.

The Christians then hesitantly returned to their vandalised homes with no proper shelter nor food.

However according to latest reports, the villagers have again started threatening the Christians, saying that if they do not convert to Hinduism and take back the complaint, they will report to the Maoist insurgents in the area that the Christians were police informers. The area is well known for its Maoist activities and in many villages the rule of law is absent as Maoists control those areas.

“Christians in Chhattisgarh, particularly in areas in and near the Bastar region, have been targeted by Hindu extremists very aggressively in the last three to four years,” said Rev. Vijayesh Lal, Executive Director of the Evangelical Fellowship of India.

“There are concentrated efforts to Hindutvaize the area by Hindu extremists and this involves Hinduization of the tribals and the demonization and forcible conversion (dubbed re-conversion by extremists) of Christians. Tribals are animists and worship nature or ancestors. In this culture, targeting Christians because they do not contribute towards a Hindu festival shows how deep the Hindu extremists led by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in the area have gone. They are fracturing the tribal society and the state government needs to take notice,” Rev. Lal added.

Katholi is a medium-sized village located in Bhanupratappur administrative area of Kanker district, Chhattisgarh with a total of 84 families residing there. The village has a population of 412 people, of which 188 are males while 224 are females (as per Population Census 2011).

– barnabas team

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