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[vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_custom_heading text=”By ICC’s India Representative” font_container=”tag:h6|text_align:left” use_theme_fonts=”yes” css=”.vc_custom_1525881346023{margin-bottom: 22px !important;}”][vc_single_image image=”99701″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]05/09/2018 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Persecution is not an uncommon experience for Christians living in the Bastar District of India’s Chhattisgarh State. In fact, it has become a part of their daily lives. However, this persecution is reaching a breaking point after a heavy deployment of security forces was needed to protect an annual Christian gathering in the village of Madota last month.

Tight security was required for the prayer gathering held on April 17 through 19 by Christians in Madota after Hindu radicals made threats against the gathering. Police were deployed to protect the safety of more than 300 Christians who gathered to peacefully practice their faith.

Still, the presence of police did not completely dispel the fears of an attack.

We had to cut down our evening programs due to fear of attacks,” Rev. Abimalik Sona, one of the organizers of the event, told International Christian Concern (ICC). “Although we have concluded the annual prayer gathering peacefully, we felt that our rights had been trampled as we had conducted these spiritual meetings under tremendous threat.

The Christians of Madota have been facing intense persecution for years. Much of the violence began back in May 2014 when Madota joined 50 other villages in the Bastar District in passing resolutions that banned the practice of non-Hindu religions. Discrimination against the Christian community spilled into outright violence on October 25, 2014 when a mob of hundreds of Hindu radicals attacked a group of Christians with iron rods and clubs. This resulted in seven Christians suffering severe injuries including broken limbs.

We have been harassed by Hindu radicals all through and through,” Mangal Mandavi, a Christian victim of the October 2014 violence, told ICC. “The latest incident was when Christians of Madota wanted to have an annual prayer meeting. We were threatened to cancel our prayer meeting, but with the prior permission from the police and security provided by the administration, we were still able to have our three-day prayer meetings.”[/vc_column_text][vc_custom_heading text=”“Although we have concluded the annual prayer gathering peacefully, we felt that our rights had been trampled as we had conducted these spiritual meetings under tremendous threat.”” font_container=”tag:h5|text_align:left” use_theme_fonts=”yes” css=”.vc_custom_1525881582142{margin-top: 50px !important;margin-bottom: 60px !important;padding-right: 20px !important;padding-left: 20px !important;}”][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1525881510179{margin-bottom: 0px !important;}”]

According to local sources, Hindu radicals sent a letter to the District Collector on April 12, demanding that he ban missionary activities in the village. The Surpanch of Matoda, Kuntala Bhandari, along with 16 others, signed the resolution.

The High Court of Chhattisgarh invalidated similar attempts to ban Christianity following the passage of the 2014 village resolutions. Christians represented by Chhattisgarh Christian Forum filed a petition against the 2014 village resolutions, challenging the ban’s constitutional validity under Article 25 of India’s Constitution which states, “All persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion.” In January 2016, the High Court overturned the bans. Despite this positive decision by the courts, little has been done to enforce the decision at the village level or prevent similar attempts to ban Christianity through other means.

Physical violence against Christians has also been allowed to continue in Madota. On April 5, six Christians were hospitalized after being attacked by a mob of Hindu radicals led by a BJP leader, Umesh Parek.

I was terrified when I heard attackers saying, ‘Kill pastor,’” Pastor Kasinath Baghel told ICC. “I immediately fled into my house. Three of them then entered into my house, dragged me out, and started to beat me mercilessly. When they were beating me, I was very frightened and thought that if I was to be killed, what would happen to my children and my wife.

Another Christian leader from Madota, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “Even though India is the largest democracy in the world, religious minorities, particularly Christians, have had to practice not only under tight security, but with much fear and restrictions set by Hindu extremists. These groups are often emboldened by the pro-Hindu political parties.

The frequency of religious rights violations, particularly against Christians, has intensified in recent months throughout India. Just like Madota, restrictions and threats against the practice of minority religions continue to take place even though this goes against the country’s constitution. Will India’s elected leaders step up to protect the rights of religious minorities? That is the question many have been asking for years.

For interviews with William Stark, Regional Manager, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: press@persecution.org

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