Thursday, June 09, 2005

Christians Feeling the heat of Persecution in Chattisgarh

By Vijayesh Lal
(Compass): Christians are feeling the heat of persecution in the state of Chattisgarh in India. There have been several reports of atrocities against Christians in the recent past. Some cases do show the liaison between the fundamentalists and the government machinery especially the police.


Chattisgarh is a state ruled by the BJP since their victory in the elections held in December last year. The BJP won 50 seats in the 90-member state assembly, while the (then) ruling Congress Party had to content itself with a mere 37 seats in a state where 35% of 20 million people are central Indian tribal members.

Christian leaders in Chattisgarh fears that they are heading towards tough time have started coming true. The Bishop Victor Kindo of Raigarh had said of the BJP victory, "The situation is not favorable. The Christian minority community in Chattisgarh is likely to face 'tough times'."

During the campaigning for the then coming elections, the BJP had stressed the conversion issue a lot. Advertisements had been placed in several local newspapers 'depicting a bishop forcibly converting a tribal member while a henchman stood guard over others encaged and waiting to be baptized by the pope's orders.'

The conversion issue had even found place in their election manifesto. The party had promised to ban conversions to Christianity if voted to power, a promise that the BJP is serious about.

A local newspaper, Dainik Bhaskar had reported in March 2005, "The state government has prepared a draft to amend the provisions of the Dharma Swatantraya Adhinayarn (Freedom of Religion) Act, making them more stringent to restrict conversions of poor tribals to Christianity," (See: India's Chhattisgarh State to Strengthen Anti - Conversion Law, March 28th 2005)

Reconversion is also high on the agenda of the BJP affiliates. The Hindu Jagran Manch, an activist group that is an ideological ally of the BJP claimed in April that hundreds of Christians were reconverted in a ceremony on April 2 in Dhamtari district of Chattisgarh. During the reconversion ceremony, former cabinet minister from BJP Dilip Singh Judeo threatened Christian workers, saying, "If Christian missionaries don't stop converting people, we will take up arms." (See: Hindu Activists in India 'Reconvert' Christians, Threaten Missionaries, April 7th 2005)

Recent Incidents

5th June 2005:

Pastor Jaichand Dongre from Moti Chowk, Shankar Nagar, Durg, was having a Sunday service at his place with Church members and visiting believers, when around 11 am they were suddenly attacked by about 200 activists from the Bajrang Dal (Youth wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad).

The Bajrang Dal people were fully armed and came with a planned strategy. According to eye witnesses they even had two police constables with them.

The activists roughed up the Church members especially the pastor and looted the place, taking away Bibles, Christian literature and Musical instruments.

From there the Christians were taken to the police station where seven men and two women (all Christians) were arrested and charged falsely with disturbing the peace in the area.

According to reports received, they were charged with Section 151 of the Indian Penal Code which says, "Whoever knowingly joins or continues in any assembly of five or more persons likely to cause a disturbance of the public peace, after such assembly has been lawfully commanded to disperse, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine, or with both."

This charge was slapped on the Christians meeting peacefully for worship in full accordance with their fundamental right given in Article 19 and 25 of the Indian constitution. Articles 19 promises right to freedom of speech and expression, to assemble peaceably and without arms, while Article 25 provides for freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion.

The Bajrang Dal had arranged for false witnesses and some women turned up who gave false witness that they were promised One Lakh rupees (About 2325 US Dollars) each by the Pastor. The Pastor denies even knowing the women.

According to reports received the Police station office Mr. Pandey slapped the Pastor several times and humiliated him. This beating was in addition to the one that the pastor got from the crowd that beat him up all the way to the police station.

When a representative of the minority commission of Madhya Pradesh, Patras Habil, contacted the police station, he was told blankly that the beatings and arrests were due to conversion activities carried on by the Christians and that they deserved it.

When the representative revealed his connection with the Minority Commission the tone of the police officer changed who then claimed to rescue the Christians from the mob who had gathered to kill them all.

Christians in the area met with the Superintendent of Police in the area who assured them of help, but still the Christians were arrested and put in prison for two days. The SP could not do anything because of the many charges leveled against the Christians.

Two days later they were released on Bail after paying a huge sum of money.

The situation in Shankar Nagar, continues to remain tense. The Bajrang Dal has mobilized people against the Christian community in the area. They are unable to take water out of the community hand pump and are also unable to buy food supplies as they face a mass social boycott.

3rd June 2005

Thirteen Christians in Hathod village, Balod, Distrist Durg were called by the Sarpanch (Village Head man) in consultation with the villagers for a meeting. During the meeting the Christians were told to renounce their faith or face the consequences. According the sources, Christians were threatened with grave consequences and were coerced to become Hindus.

According to reports received, the notable fact is that most of the Christians who were asked to renounce their faith have not accepted Christianity recently. They were Christians for quite some time, some of them are even involved in Christian service and having some sort of theological training.

Seven of the thirteen Christians declined the ruling of the Sarpanch and were taken to the police station and locked up in Balod jail. Sources have revealed that the police was hand in glove with the Sarpanch and Hindu fundamentalist leaders in the village. The Christians have been implicated under Sections 151, 107 and 116 of the Indian Penal Code.

Compass spoke to the lawyer of the Christians, Mr. Ram Kishore Sahu, who informed that this type of threatening is not new in the area. Two years ago Christians from the same area were implicated using identical tactics. They are still facing the consequence of choosing to stick to their faith as the case against them is still going on.

Mr. Sahu further said that these are tactics of harassment against simple Christians who are not well off economically to discourage them from following their faith. He did not rule out the influence and involvement of Hindu fundamentalist organizations like the RSS, VHP and the BJP.

Meanwhile the Christians still languish in prison. The orders for their bail have been given, but the Hindu fundamentalists made sure that they had a way of circumventing even this.

Mr. Sahu told Compass that the Bail orders explicitly say that the bail security of Rupees 10,000 for each person has to come from within the village Hathod and that outsiders are not allowed to provide security for bail.

Due to the influence of the Sarpanch and fundamentalists this is currently not possible, for no one wants to help the Christians and risk their status in the village.

At the time of the writing of this report efforts continue to bail the Christians out while the situation in the area remains tense.

Only 1.9 percent (401,035) of the total population (20,833,803) of Chattisgarh are Christians according to the 2001 Census.