Local Christians Denied Their Constitutional Rights Despite Court Ruling
02/24/2017 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that a village council in Benje village, located in India’s Chhattisgarh state, passed a resolution on February 6, 2017, banning the practice of non-Hindu faiths, essentially deeming Christianity illegal. This resolution was passed despite a decision by the High Court of Chhattisgarh overturning similar resolutions.
A local newspaper in Benje, the Patrika, reported the news about the resolution, while also noting that local Hindu nationalist groups arranged for neighboring villages to pass similar resolutions. According to ICC sources, there is only one Christian family in the village Benje. A Christian leader, who wished to remain anonymous, contends, “The magnitude of [the] immediate effect might be small, but the resolution will have huge consequences for the future as no one will be able preach or practice Christianity in the area.”
These resolutions banning the practice of non-Hindu faiths started in the Bastar district of Chhattisgarh in June 2014. Then, more than 50 villages in Bastar passed resolutions which banned all non-Hindu religious propaganda, prayers, and speeches in the villages. The institution of these bans led to a spree of physical violence and social boycotts against Christians in the district.
Christians, represented by Chhattisgarh Christian Forum (CCF), filed a petition in the High Court of Chhattisgarh challenging the bans’ constitutional validity under Article 25 of India’s constitution which states, “All persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion.” In January 2016, the High Court overturned the bans.
Dr. Arun Pannalal, a Christian activist and the president of Chhattisgarh Christian Forum, told ICC, “Even though Chhattisgarh’s High Court invalidated the resolutions last year, the resolutions continue to spread to other districts like Balod, Kondagaon and Kankher.”
He added, “There has been [a] shift from the traditional way of [persecution] from individual cases of harassment to institutional terrorism that denies poor Christians their basic right to live on par with others. There is not much we can do except fight in the courts.”
William Stark, ICC’s Regional Manager, said, “These resolutions banning Christianity have already led to years of intense violence and discrimination against Christians in Chhattisgarh. ICC is thankful that the resolutions were overturned by the High Court, but disturbed that local villages are still passing such resolutions. Christians have a constitutional right to freedom of religion and it is vital that Prime Minister Modi and other government officials seek ways to uphold this right. Until the government directly enforces the High Court’s decision, it is likely that these resolutions will continue to spread in Chhattisgarh, denying Christians their basic constitutional rights as Indian citizens.”