Christians living in India’s Chhattisgarh state are currently enduring a large wave of persecution sweeping across their state. Radical Hindu organizations have passed laws and ordinances against Christianity, churches and Christians have been attacked and even the Christmas holiday is now under pressure to change. Will this wave of persecution continue to wash over these Christian communities or will the government of India step in to secure the rights of all its citizens?
12/10/2014 India (Firstpost) – Away from national glare, a silent religious conquest is taking shape in tribal Chhattisgarh. After the new dispensation took charge at the Centre, the ongoing tussle between the forces of Hindutva and Christians is going decidedly in favor of the former.
Here are a few instances of how things have started changing in the state, particularly in its southern region:
A priest appeared before the media in Jagdalpur in the company of local Vishwa Hindu Parishad leaders a month ago and announced the Church’s decision to display pictures of the Hindu Goddess Saraswati in their schools. He also said the principals and vice-principals would be called acharya and up-acharya henceforth instead of ‘father’.
In the Bastar region, the VHP has objected to the distribution of sweets by Santa Claus among people during Christmas. It has instructed the community to replace sweets with ‘prasad’.
Around the time the BJP government took control at the Centre, five villages in Bastar, through their gram sabhas, passed orders prohibiting non-Hindus from practicing religious activities and prayers in their villages. Members of the Christian community allege that the VHP provoked people to pass the order and the state government is protecting them.
“People are holding mahapanchayats in other parts of the state for the last six months. Some of them are issuing circulars against the missionaries. Around 52 members of the Christian community have been attacked by the VHP activists in recent months,” Arun Pannalal, general secretary of Chhattisgarh Christian Forum (CCF), has told the media.
The Bastar incident last month was only a symptom of the communal problem affecting the state.
According to political observers, the symptoms have been clearly visible over the last few months but the malady had set in long ago. The equation between Christians and Hindus started changing after the BJP came to power in the state in 2003. The process has intensified now.
Some of the legislations of the BJP-led state government directly target Christian missionaries. Many effectively turned out to be tools for the government and the administration to patronize and promote right wing forces on the ground.
Chhattisgarh, for example, is one of the five states in the country to have the anti-conversion law. The state had inherited one from Madhya Pradesh but felt the need to amend the law once the BJP came to power. The state assembly passed the Chhattisgarh Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Act, 2006 which provided for a three-year jail term and a fine of Rs 20, 000 for those indulging in religious conversion through allurement, fraud or force.
It also provided that “the return to ancestor’s original religion or his own original religion by any person shall not be construed as ‘conversion’.” Many see this provision as a means to allow the continuance of programs by right-wing Hindu organizations – branded as ‘Ghar Wapsi’ or home coming to reconvert Christians to Hinduism. The bill requires a person intending to convert to another religion to apply to the district collector at least 30 days in advance. The Collector is vested with the right to refuse permission to convert. This is seen as an infringement of one’s constitutional right to choose one’s religion.
As if the existing provisions of the law – both central and state – were not enough, the state assembly has passed and enacted bills such as Tonahi Pratadna Nivaran Adhiniyam-2005 – essentially dealing with faith and superstition under various names. The laws have come handy in the harassment of Christians, the community feels.
“When there exist enough laws, what is the purpose of enacting more for the same types of offence if not harassment?” asks Arun Pannalal, general secretary of Chhattisgarh Christian Forum.