Escalating violence against Christians in Chhattisgarh sparks concern

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Recent incidents in Chhattisgarh have highlighted a disturbing trend of increased violence and discrimination against the Christian minority. Multiple reports indicate a surge in attacks orchestrated by hardline Hindu groups, leaving the Christian community feeling vulnerable and unprotected.

On 24 June, tribal Christians and other activists in Chhattisgarh's Raipur district staged a silent march through Motibag town, carrying placards that read "Stop violence against Christians” and "We want justice." Speaking to Christian Today, Arun Pannalal, president of the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum, explained, "We had to come to the streets as our prayers and plight have not been heard even after repeated complaints to the authorities."

Pannalal further alleged that hardline Hindu groups falsely accuse Christians of religious conversion, pronounce them guilty and punish them on the spot. "Our rights were violated in front of police, who were supposed to protect the constitution," the lay leader said.

The protest came in response to a series of violent incidents targeting Christians across the state. On 12 June, four Christian families in Jagdalpur town were reportedly attacked by a Hindu mob and given an ultimatum to renounce their faith within ten days. The assault left two victims unconscious and three others hospitalised, with one suffering a broken leg.

A lawyer representing the families since 2023, who wishes to remain anonymous, provided more details about the incident to the media. The attack occurred in Bade Paroda village, under Badanji Police station. The lawyer noted that all the attacks were aided by the local police, eventually leading the families to flee from their village.

"The families are now banished from the village and have been coerced into signing a statement, in the presence of local authorities and signed by the village sarpanch, stating they will convert within ten days if they wish to return. They fled the village, fearing for their lives, as they believed they would be killed if they did not comply," the lawyer told Maktoob Media.

The attack on 12 June began when villagers went to cultivate their lands. A group allegedly affiliated with the Bajrang Dal and RSS declared that they could not work until they denounced their religion, claiming the lands belonged to the village “deities.” Later, around 9 a.m., the families were reportedly dragged out of their homes, beaten relentlessly and detained in the Panchayat Bhawan until around 3 p.m. The complaint, accessed by Maktoob, claimed that this included the detention of underage girls with the aid of the police.

The Hindutva group further attacked properties, demolishing field walls and destroying crops, resulting in significant financial losses. The lawyer claimed that a few months ago, these groups even burnt down cornfields belonging to Christian families to intimidate them into converting.

A particularly heinous incident occurred on 24 June in Toylanka village, Dantewada district, where a Christian woman named Bindu Sori was brutally killed by her Hindu relatives. The victim's family had allegedly faced harassment since converting to Christianity four years ago. The altercation began as a dispute over land rights, with the attackers claiming that the family had forfeited their right to farm the land upon becoming Christians.

The United Christian Forum (UCF), a watchdog organisation, reported at least 23 cases of violence against Christians in just one week. The group's data suggests that approximately 200 hate crimes targeting Christians were recorded in the first three months of 2024 alone.

Mukti Prakash Tirkey, an activist, highlighted that the districts of Narayanpur and Kondagaon have witnessed intense violence against tribal Christians and their institutions since December 2022. Over 1,000 tribal Christians, including pregnant women, children, and the elderly, have been forced to flee their ancestral villages, with many seeking refuge in forests during harsh winter conditions.

In Dhamtari district, Pannalal reported 27 serious attacks on women and religious places within a two-week period. He also alleged that police have closed 37 churches in the district, suggesting a concerning lack of protection for religious minorities. Nearly 2,000 letters of complaint have been filed, but no action has been taken.

The day before the attack on Bindu Sori, the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum issued a press release stating it had appealed to Chhattisgarh's governor to address violence against religious minorities. Pannalal stated that authorities are now aiding religious fanatics who are closing churches throughout Chhattisgarh in an unconstitutional manner.

These events have triggered fears among Christian families, forcing many to flee their villages in search of safety. The situation underscores a worrying trend of rising intolerance, with an advocacy group reporting an increase in incidents of violence against Christians from 505 in 2021 to 687 in 2023.

In the light of recent events, there are growing calls for urgent intervention to protect the rights and safety of religious minorities in Chhattisgarh. With Christians comprising less than 2 percent of the state's 30 million population, the community finds itself increasingly vulnerable to persecution and violence.

Pannalal, thanked the Christians who rallied on the streets of Raipur last week. “I thank you that even in this scorching heat of summer, over 1,500 people joined in the silent protest against the atrocities on the Christian community,” said Pannalal expressing gratitude for the unexpected sizeable numbers. “People came from 45 legislative assembly areas, while we were only expecting around 500 people.” Pannalal assured that the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum will organise bigger protests in the future, if no action is taken by the authorities over the plight of the community.