SHUBHDA CHAUDHARY | 26 APRIL, 2016
NEW DELHI: On April 17, Pastor Dinbanhu Sameli and his seven-month pregnant wife Meena were attacked by militant Hindutva group Bajrang Dal in Bastar in Chhattisgarh. Around 7 pm in the night, two men had approached the pastor outside of his home, initially claiming that they hailed from the nearby Methodist Church. But later, quite dramatically, they bought a sword to pastor’s neck and forced him to say ‘Jai Siya Ram.’. They even tried to belittle their faith in Jesus and smirked at their ignorance for not having faith in Ram instead. When the couple did not chant ‘Jai Ram’ or stamped it on the Bible, the goons set alight the church and even doused the couple with one litre of petrol. The couple had to flee as the church silent burnt. Such anti-Christian violence in Bastar, Chhattisgarh is not a new phenomenon and Christians have been facing these treacherous atrocities for the past few years, traumatizing them to an extreme level.
In the districts like Raipur, Bilaspur, Durg, Rajnandgao, Bastar, Sarguja and Raigarh is around 1% each. At the same time, the population of Hindus has grown dramatically in Chhattisgarh, even higher than the national average. But there are allegations, especially in the Bastar region that Christians are carrying out evangelical activities and targeting the tribals. Hence, a law was passed to prevent the conversion, though, ironically the same law does not create any hindrance to those who were originally Hindus and had converted but want to return to their original faith.
In 2014, 40 radical Hindutva militants from Bajrang Dal had targeted a church in Bastar. The church leader had immediately issued an email which stated how Christians were attacked when they had assembled for a prayer meeting in the church at 4 pm. Many had to flee, few were seriously injured and the others hid in the jungles nearby. Immediately, the Sajan George who is the president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) stated that the Hindu fundamentalists who were involved in the brutal attack of the 12 Christians should be immediately arrested. On 26th October 2014, when a group of Christians had again assembled to discuss an appeal to the High Court regarding the anti-conversion law, instead of the police being present, the Bajrang Dal goons appeared again and attacked the Christians with knives. Sajan George strongly stated that the Chhattisgarh Freedom of Religion Act 1968 is being used as an anti-conversion law and exploited by the Hindu fanatics so that they can imprison the Christians.
On February 13, 2015, once again a church at Akaltara in Chhattisgarh's Janjgir-Champa district was attacked. Few items in the church were set on fire. The police lodged a complaint of ‘theft’ instead of a criminal activity or trespassing. Arun Pannalal who is the President of the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum (CCF) had questioned why time and again the police fails to support their cause and why such incidents are seen under the purview of theft. He even asked that what anyone would gain by stealing when the brutal attacks have been much worse in their impact.
Anto Akkara, who has been meticulously following the anti-Christian attacks in India since Kandhamal riots in 2008 states that the victims practice the culture of ‘silence of lambs.’ He spoke of how the persecuted Christians try to embrace the violence and forgive it, as taught by Jesus Christ instead of taking action against it. They adhere to the Old and the New Testament in which Jesus Christ has stated that the followers would be persecuted if they follow his path and hence, consciously, they actually expect to be persecuted in their lives, as a price that they have to pay for following Christianity.
Though, Akhilesh Edgar who is the National Manager at the human rights body called as Alliance Defending Freedom stated that the atrocities and violence against the religious minorities should be prevented. But Vishwa Hindu Parishad believes that it is the Christian community which is stirring the communal tensions in Chhattisgarh. There have been strikingly large number of religious conversions of Christians back to Hinduism from the tribal belts of Chhattisgarh. In fact, Bastar Lok Sabha MP, Dinesh Kashyap also celebrated the so-called ‘ghar wapsi’ or ‘homecoming’ of the tribals back to Hinduism by washing the feet of the local tribals. The Chhattisgarh unit of the right-wing Dharam Jagran Manch has already chalked out a plan through which they aim to convert all the Christians in Chhattisgarh back to Hinduism by 2021.
Instead of reassuring the Christian community, BJP and the members of the Legislative Assembly have participated in the religious conversion ceremonies. Secretary of the EFI Religious Liberties Commission wrote a letter to the Chief Minister Dr. Raman Singh stating how the Christians are living in constant fear, unable to safeguard their faith or even the place or worship. He stated that how the condition has worsened dramatically in the past few months. He mentioned how the militant Hindu fanatics have also coerced the village heads and other officials. Thus, the police in Chhattisgarh shows its nonchalance against the security of the Christian minorities. There is a growing nexus in between the political organizations, hoodlums of the ground and also the politicians who are in the higher office. On October 9, 2014, local BJP MLA Dinesh Kashyap celebrated the conversion of 33 Christians from 10 families into Hinduism at an event in event at Kunkuda village.
It is quite unfortunate that when it comes to attack against the religious minorities in India, the Christian community is blatantly ignored and they remain as a footnote to the narrative of communal tensions. Such activities are definitely against the spirit of democracy and secularism which is enshrined in our constitution and it is a matter of grave concern how these recurrent incidents are not fetching any justice, media attention or concern at a larger scale.