Chhattisgarh politicians terrorize Christians, pressurize police
EFI Religious Liberty Commission calls on Chief Minister to restore rule of law in villages
NEW DELHI / RAIPUR, 5 NOVEMBER 2014 : The EFI Religious Liberty Commission has called upon the Chief Minister of the State of Chhattisgarh to intervene urgently to restore the rule of law in various villages where cadres of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal have attacked Christians. Senior leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata party, including members of the Legislative Assembly, instead of reassuring the minority community have led forcible conversions ceremonies.
In a letter to Dr. Raman Singh, the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, Reverend Vijayesh Lal, Secretary of the EFI Religious Liberties Commission said "the situation has suddenly deteriorated rapidly in the last four months, and today the tiny Christian community in the state lives in a state of terror and trepidation, fearing for their lives, their security an their homes. Above all they fear for their identity as Christians, their freedom of faith, and the safety of their places of worship."
Rev Lal said Panchayati Raj structures had been perverted by violent and aggressive cadres of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal who have coerced officials and village heads. The police have not been able to assure safety and security. "In fact we see gross impunity, and sometimes connivance with the lawless elements."
The EFIRLC specifically referred to violence in Madota village, Police Station Bhanpuri, District Bastar, Chhattisgarh (about 40 kilometres from Jagdalpur) which shows an unholy nexus between the hoodlums on the ground, political organisations and politicians in high office. In and its surrounding areas Christian families have had many visits from Hindu groups forcing them to convert to Hinduism or face the consequences. The village has already witnessed an order prohibiting the visit of any Christian pastor or leader who is not a local of Madota village. No such rule exists for leaders of the VHP who frequent the village.
The village saw anti Christian violence on 14th September when people at prayer in the Carmel Pentecostal Church were attacked by members of Bajrang Dal and VHP. Over 30 karyakartas [cadres] of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad entered the church, raising slogans of "Isaiyon ko maro, Ramrajya leke aao", [Eliminate the Christians, Bring in the Kingdom of Lord Rama] and began beating up the persons present, including women and children. They threatened the members of Christian community present there that if they did not come back into their old religion i.e. the Hindu fold, they would not be allowed to drink water from the communal water sources, they would not be allowed to reap their harvests and would be dispossessed of their lands, and might even lose their lives. The Christian community tried to register a complaint at the local police station at Bhanpuri, however the Town Inspector (TI - Stationhouse Officer), he refused to register an FIR [First Information Report].
On 9th October the local BJP MLA Dinesh Kashyap led an event at Kunkuda village, in which he claimed to re-convert to Hinduism, 33 Christians from 10 families.
"All this is not acceptable in a democracy. It also goes counter to the promise of communal harmony made by the Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, in his address to the nation from the Red Fort on 15th August 2014, and later. We hope you will also intervene with the non-state actors, including the VHP and the Bajrang Dal, and call upon them to desist from such activities," Rev Vijayesh Lal said.
Encl; Factsheet on Anti-Christian violence in Chhattisgarh:
CHHATTISGARH FACTSHEET OCTOBER 2014
Christians in Chhattisgarh especially in the Bastar area have been facing massive politically inspired opposition, which has manifested itself in the form of physical violence and social discrimination. The apathy, impunity and partisanship of the administration at various levels has compounded the human tragedy, and the gravity of the violation of Constitutional guarantees of Freedom of Expression, Freedom of Association and Movement, and most important, the Freedom of Relgion and Belief.
The current wave of incidents against Christians first came into light in May 2014 when Christian families were denied ration and ration cards after they refused to bow down to the demands set by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). The VHP had asked each Christian family to contribute 200 rupees per member towards Hindu festivities initiated by the VHP in Sirisguda village. The Christians who had always contributed money during village festivals by their free will could not comply as the money demanded was too much, and the Christians are poor. This resulted in their being denied food for more than 2 months. The village leadership kept silent.
When Christians reported this matter to the district authorities, activists of the VHP and the Bajrang Dal, which is also very active in the region, beat them up. The Gram Sabha, the village council, of Sirisguda passed a resolution outlawing non-Hindu faiths from the village. A section of the Panchayat Raj Act (129 G) was used to adopt a resolution proscribing all religious activity in the village areas which did not adhere to the Hindu faith. Even the Collector of the District, Mr. Ankit Anand, who is the highest civil servant and administration of the region, admitted was against the law.
Since then, according to media reports, more than 60 villages have passed similar resolutions in the area. There have been frequent reports between July 2014 and now of Christians being beaten up in Bastar District in various places including Sirisguda, Belar, Gadiya, Parapur etc.
In Madota village, Police Station Bhanpuri, District Bastar, Chhattisgarh (about 40 kilometres from Jagdalpur) and its surrounding areas Christian families have had many visits from Hindu groups forcing them to convert to Hinduism or face the consequences. The village has already witnessed an order prohibiting the visit of any Christian pastor or leader who is not a local of Madota village. No such rule exists for leaders of the VHP who frequent the village.
On 14th September, Christians gathered peacefully at the Carmel Pentecostal Church near Madota village were attacked by members of Bajrang Dal and VHP. As the Chhattisgarh Lok Swantrya Sangathan, the state unit of People's Union for Civil Liberties, a prominent national Human Rights group noted, "When the Christian community was conducting worship in their Church, 30-35 karyakartas [cadres] of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad entered the church, gave slogans of "Isaiyon ko maro, Ramrajya leke aao", [Eliminate the Christians, Bring in the Kingdom of Lord Rama] and began beating up the persons present, including women and children. They threatened the members of Christian community present there that if they did not come back into their old religion i.e. the Hindu fold, they would not be allowed to drink water from the communal water sources, they would not be allowed to reap their harvests and would be dispossessed of their lands, and might even lose their lives. The Christian community tried to register a complaint at the local police station at Bhanpuri, however the Town Inspector (TI - Stationhouse Officer), he refused to register an FIR [First Information Report]."
"On 16 September 2014, 40-50 members of the Christian community went to the District Head Quarters at Jagdalpur and informed the Superintendent of Police regarding the above incident. The SP Jagdalpur directed the Inspector of Police Station to go to the village and effect a compromise between the two communities. On 19 September 2014, the Inspector of the Bhanpuri police station summoned both parties to the dispute to come to the Police Station. The leaders of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad - Yogendra Kaushik and Surendra Yadav – both residents of Jagdalpur, also went to the Police Station. They threateningly told the Police Officer that he should not get involved in this issue and that only their writ would run in Madhota village. They told the Christians that they must get re-converted to the Hindu fold otherwise they would face consequences. Slogans of "Bajrang Bali" were shouted in the Thana itself. The TI then advised the Christian pastors who had accompanied the villagers not to enter the village, and not to conduct any collective prayer meetings. The villagers and the Pastors had no choice but to obey."
On 9th October the local BJP MLA Dinesh Kashyap led an event at Kunkuda village, in which he claimed to re-convert to Hinduism, 33 Christians from 10 families. The VHP Jagdalpur unit organized the program and Dinesh Kashyap not only presided over the event but also washed the feet of the people being reconverted. Christians in the area have reported that the re-conversion ceremony was a farce and that already Hindu members were paraded as Christians who are embracing Hinduism.
The event raises important questions as to the role of Mr. Kashyap who is the brother of Kedar Kashyap, the BJP Member of Parliament from the area and the law. As a local MLA does Mr. Kashyap represent the interests of Hindus alone? Was the procedure for conversion, which requires information and permission from the district administration, followed and were affidavits submitted? If not then Mr. Kashyap and the members of the VHP have a lot to answer for.
On 19th October another Church was targeted at Madota village. The PUCL report said: Once again while the Christians were conducting their prayers in the Church, the karyakartas [cadres] of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad surrounded the Church and 5-6 of them entered the Church premises. The people can recognize Daulat, Sadhu, Bhadu, Nauratan and Raju by name and face from amongst these. These people had come with a photo of Bajrang Bali and began to abuse and beat the Christians. They initially wanted to put up the photo of Bajrang Bali in the church, but later they hung it on the borewell and declared that no Christians would be allowed to drink water from the borewell. The people again went to the PS Bhanpuri, where the TI refused to register their complaint. The next day, i.e. on 20th October 2014, they went to meet the SP, district Bastar. The SP not being available, they met the Additional Superintendent of Police Mr. Vijay Pandey, who assured them that he would personally look into the matter. He said that he would come to the village on 25th October 2014 and bring the City Magistrate along with him so that the matter could be resolved.
On 25th October 2014, the Village Kotwar [official] announced by beating of drum that the district authorities would be visiting the village. The Christian community comprising 25-30 families gathered near their Church from 10 am, but none of the officers came to the village. At around 2.30 pm (afternoon), a crowd of about 250-300 people armed with lathis [canes, or staves] came in a procession to the village, and started beating up the Christians including women and children. Some were pursued right up to their houses and beaten there. Many ran away into the adjoining forest. Six Christians were severely injured including a woman whose hand had been fractured. Mr. Bhupendra Khora was informed by the villagers of this and he immediately contacted the SP, Bastar. Though the SP was not present, Mr. Khora appraised his Reader of the tense situation, and he sent the police force to the village. When the police arrived, the VHP people were still beating the Christians and they ran away after seeing the police. When the ambulance service (called 108 in Chhattisgarh) was called, the Village Kotwar, who is himself a member of the Bajrang Dal and 2-3 others also got into the ambulance along with the injured Christians claiming that they had been hurt by the Christians, though they had no visible injuries. These persons were also admitted into the hospital. Persons named Bhagirathi, Sadhu, Bhadu, Raju and others of the VHP were detained in bailable offences. The Christian pastors were also detained under Section 151 Criminal Procedure Code.
On 27th October 2014, about 2,000-2,500 persons surrounded the Bhanpuri police station to demand the release of the VHP members. They were however produced before the judicial magistrate and remanded to judicial custody. The Pastors were produced in the SDM's court, but since he was on leave and did not accept the bail bonds, they were also sent to jail.
Under the pressure of the VHP cadres, the injured Christians were discharged from the hospital, whereas the VHP persons with hardly any injuries continue to be admitted there.
The PUCL noted that "the Christian community in Village Madhota is in terror. They are not being allowed to access the communal sources of water nor to harvest their crops. No Christian is being allowed to leave the village since the two roads leading from the village, one towards Bhanpuri and the other towards Jagdalpur are being guarded by the VHP persons. Many Christians are outside the village and unable to enter the village for fear. The Pastors are facing death threats if they enter the village."
The PUCL said the main source of the impunity of the VHP members is because they are being fully supported by Mr. Kedar Kashyap, Minister in the Chhattisgarh government who is carrying out a campaign of "Ghar Vapasi" in which Christians are being re-converted to Hinduism often forcibly. The District President of the VHP - Surendra Yadav - and the Janpad Panchayat Member of neighboring Village Usuri who is a BJP as well as VHP leader of the area and his close aide Mohan Mourya are inciting and mobilizing the villagers of Madhota and surrounding villages to attack the Christian community.
Rev. Dr. Richard Howell,
Evangelical Fellowship of India,
New Delhi, India
Rev. Vijayesh Lal,
Religious Liberty Commission,
Evangelical Fellowship of India,
New Delhi, India.
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