By ICC India Correspondent
International Christian Concern
Ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power, religious freedom in India has significantly diminished as right-wing Hindu nationalist organizations infringe upon the rights of minorities. Particularly in the state of Chhattisgarh, intrusions on religious freedom have increased at a very fast pace. From the passing of resolutions banning Christian missionaries and non-Hindu religious activity to the interference in Christian schools by forcing Catholic schools to hang the Hindu Goddess Saraswati's picture, Christians in Chhattisgarh are suffering some of the most acute persecution in India.
Attack on Christian Community of Madota
On the morning of October 19, 2014, more than 30 Hindu radicals barged into Beersheba Church in Madota, a village located in Chhattisgarh state, and began beating the Christians gathered there, while also accusing them of practicing a foreign religion and forcibly converting innocent tribal people. The church members were then dragged outside and further assaulted.
Hindu radicals threatened the Christians and told them to leave the Christian faith and come back to their original religion. They also warned them with severe consequences if they continued to hold Christian activities in the village.
When the Christians reported the incident to the police in Bhanpuri, the police told the Christians they needed assemble on the October 25 to hold discussion with the other Hindu villages, as the matter was related to village affairs. Approximately 100 Christians showed up for the meeting and were met by the local Hindu community accompanied by about 400 Hindu radicals.
The police did not show up to the village meeting, causing many of the Christians to become nervous. All of the sudden, the radicals attacked the Christians with rods and clubs, injuring many of the Christians. Seven were severely injured, having both their hands and legs broken. The attackers also hit a local Christian named Mr. Narsu Madavi on the head, causing him severe injury. Many Christians ran to the nearby forests to protect themselves from brutal attackers.
Mr. Mangal Mandavi lost his hearing when he was hit on his ear by one of the attackers. He said, "We never had to go to police station in our life. Today, for the sake of following Jesus, we are persecuted. We as Christian community are very strong, even after the attack on us. We will never turn back. Even if we have to die, we will never leave Jesus."
The Hindu radicals did not allow government emergency ambulance service into the village after the attack and stopped the ambulances at the entrance of the village. Later, police intervened and took the seven severely injured Christians to the Maharani hospital in Jagdalpur.
Following the incident, police arrested two Christians and sent them to jail. When Pastor Panda Mandavi and Mr. Pandra Kashyap went to the police station for an enquiry, they were also booked under sections 115, 116 of Indian penal code. Police then went on to book cases against twelve others Christians.
Reportedly, prior to the incident on October 25, there was an attempt to re-convert all Christians in the village of Madota. Local sources revealed that fifteen Christians participated in the re-conversion ceremony; however, according to local newspapers, the VHP claimed that they re-converted thirty-five Christians.
Discrimination Against Chhattisgarh's Christians
Besides this devastating attack on the Christian community of Madota, there has also been a common pattern of right-wing Hindu organizations threatening Christians to re-convert or lose the benefits of ration cards (BPL cards). The radicals also threaten "social boycott" against Christians, which could include things like denying Christians the use of public water sources, food rations, and access to electricity.
"We were denied rations for two months," said Pastor Sibo Mandavi of Sirciguda. "When we asked the reason for the discrimination, they told [us] that it was Panchayat's (village council) decision that all the Christians of the village do not get the ration, as they are practicing outside religion other than Hindu religion," he continued.
When the Christians of Sirciguda complained to a higher officer, the officer tried to resolve the situation. The Hindu radicals then threatened the officer and told him to leave the village, claiming the decision against the Christians was a village matter.
The very next day, a resolution was passed by the village Panchayat (council) to ban Christian missionaries and non-Hindu religious propagation in more than thirty-five villages in Bastar District. This resolution, which has spread across Chhattisgarh, essentially has made Christianity illegal, denying many Christians in Chhattisgarh their constitutional right to religious freedom.
These rapid developments and intrusions on Christians' right to religious freedoms have not only snatched the freedom of religion from these communities in Chhattisgarh, but have also given fringe elements free reign to attack and marginalize Christian communities. As a result, Christians in Chhattisgarh are more vulnerable than ever before.
Repeated cries for help from the local Christians to authorities have not been heard and many continue to suffer acute persecution. India's government must take action soon if it is to remain true to its own constitution which promises the freedom of religion. If action is not taken, the right to religious freedom could soon be extinguished in India's Chhattisgarh state.
For interviews, contact William Stark, Regional Manager for South Asia: RM-SAsia@persecution.org
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