The Rising Tide of Persecution in India’s Chhattisgarh State: Part 1
By ICC’s India Correspondent
10/11/2018 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Christians living in the predominantly tribal Bastar region of India’s Chhattisgarh state are often targeted by violent Hindu radical groups. Why? Because of the growth of Christianity in the region.
This violent persecution is a part of the broader ‘Hindutva’ movement that has grown in recent years in India. The Hindutva movement is based on an ideology that seeks to establish a hegemony of Hindus and the Hindu way of life in India to the exclusion of people who do not identify as Hindus. This includes India’s small Christian population.
In 2014, the Hindutva movement gained momentum when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), an ideological ally of Hindutva, won both the central election in India and the state elections in Chhattisgarh.
Since 2014, Christian persecution has escalated to unprecedented levels in Chhattisgarh, especially the Bastar region. This has created an atmosphere of fear among believers as new methods of persecution are being adopted by radicals.
“Earlier, they would only attack people, but of late they have changed their tactics,” said advocate Manu Baghel (name changed to protect identity), while speaking with International Christian Concern (ICC).
“Now they are grabbing domestic lands and vandalizing houses and church properties. In many cases, due to pressure from the radical elements, the panchayat authorities (village council or administrative body) refuse to issue caste certificates, domicile certificates, ration cards,” Baghel explained.
Baghel continued, “The attackers forcibly enter homes and vandalize furniture, clothes, food stuff like rice, dal, etc. They have even resorted to killing domestic animals like cows and goats reared by our [Christian] families who make a living by selling milk and meat.”
Members of the Brethren Church in the village of Shirishguad took the matter to court in June 2014, after their ration cards were blocked at the markets for months, preventing them from purchasing rice, grains, and various other products at the government-approved prices.
In India, members of the economically weak Adivasi tribal community are issued ration cards from the government. These cards help purchase basic food staples which are subsidized through a network of fair price shops and markets.
“Earlier, they would only attack people, but of late they have changed their tactics...Now they are grabbing domestic lands and vandalizing houses and church properties.”
When the church’s pastor, Pastor Sibo Mandavi, complained to the authorities about the issue, officials came to investigate the matter. However, the officials quickly fled after the Deputy Sarpanch and the Secretary of the Panchayat threatened them.
“When the officials left, the radicals, along with other villagers, attacked us,” Pastor Sibo said. “They chased some of our women believers all across the market area and clobbered them using sticks and even vegetables as weapons. When I tried to escape they caught me half a kilometer away and dragged me back to the market area all the while beating, slapping me, and hurling abuses.”
“More than 60 of us lay wounded with various degrees of injuries,” Pastor Sibo continued. “The attackers put up roadblocks to prevent the ambulances from reaching us. We managed to contact human rights activists in Jagdalpur, the district headquarters of Bastar around 40 kms away. Promptly, they informed the district police who came in large numbers and helped us reach the hospital.”
Four years later, the violence has only increased. In 2014, there were 147 reported cases of persecution against Christians in India. In 2017, that number increased to 351 incidents, marking a dramatic increase of 232% in just three years.
The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that Chhattisgarh witnessed over 43 cases of violence against the Christian community in 2017. However, they estimate that those are likely only one-third of the total cases because many fear reporting the violence due to reprisal and various other complications.
Advocate Baghel concluded, “In the near future, due to the escalating persecution, not only physical violence, but also domestic clashes between family members (those who have converted to Christianity and those who have not) will go up. It will be horrible times for Christians to live in the villages.”
While June 2014 may seem like ancient history, it was the beginning of an intense wave of persecution for the Christian community of the Bastar region. Since then, attacks have continued and intense social boycotts have been established to punish them for converting to Christianity. This has made the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh one of the most dangerous areas for Christians in all of India.
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