Raipur: The wave of targetting non-Hindu believers has now reached the Maoist-dominated Bastar region. In Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district, nearly 40 tribal Christians were attacked by an alleged right-wing tribal group. The assailants brutally thrashed them on the night of November 24 in front of a church, tribal families alleged.
The incident which had occurred nearly 400-km away from the State capital Raipur at Chingavaram village of Sukma district, four people reported as being critically injured while 20 people, including five women, received multiple injuries on legs, back, hips and chest.
Sukma police booked 16 villagers under relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) including 147, 149, 294, 506B and 323 for assaulting and attacking the family and arrested all the accused.
This is the second incident in the last three months in Chhattisgarh when tribal Christian families were attacked allegedly due to their faith.
Homes of nearly 10 Christian families were ransacked in south Chhattisgarh's Kondagaon district on September 23 where some inhabitants from five village panchayats assembled and warned the local Christian families to leave their villages. Over 1,500 villagers gathered at Singanpur in Kondagaon district and held a demonstration. Many of them reportedly threatened that they would not allow any Christian to live in their area unless they return to their previous faith.
‘Beaten in front of Church’
On the fateful day of November 24, Mukka Madavi, belonging to a Christian family who had converted a decade back, called a prayer meeting with his kin followed by ‘Chhati’—naming ritual of a newborn—in his village Chingavaram. Around 1 am, in the middle of the night, nearly 50 men from the village, armed with sticks, iron rods and sharp-edged weapons, attacked his home and brutally assaulted the family as well as the guests.
The assailants did not stop there. They chased down the tribal Christians who tried to escape, assaulted them, tore their clothes apart, burnt the Bibles in their possession, and ransacked the home, claimed Mukka’s kin Madvi Bheema. “One of my kin who managed to hide himself at night, was caught by the mob at around 6 am and dragged by hair and then tied and beaten in front of the church in the village,” recalled Bheema while narrating the horror of the incident.
Few victims who escaped and tried to take refuge in the nearby Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) camp, which was 500 metres away from the place of the incident, were turned away by the personnel, alleged Madvi Madka, another victim.
As the matter came to light, on November 25, Sukma police rushed to the village and sent the injured to a hospital. Hours later, the police detained 42 villagers. They booked 16 under relevant sections of the IPC while the remaining 26 villagers were released after signing a bond of Rs 30,000.
However, the police overlooked the ‘religious suppression’ aspect behind the attack in the FIR, alleged Laxman, the elder son of Mukka Madavi.
“The police first denied to lodge the FIR, and when they lodged it, they deliberately excluded our claims and termed it as minor conflict over the DJ (at the family programme). We were attacked for following Christianity,” alleged Laxman while talking over the phone with the reporter.
“This is not the first time they have attacked us during prayers,” said Laxman. “We have written a letter to the district collector and urged to add charges of religious oppression in the FIR against the accused and sought protection owing to the looming threat,” Laxman added.
Following the incident, the whole family of Mukka Madavi fled from their village and was taking refuge in Sukma due to the fear of further attack when they bumped into a member of Bastar Adhikar Shala, an NGO working for tribal and human rights.
A day later, a fact-finding team from Bastar Adhikar Shala, accompanied by human rights lawyer and activist Bela Bhatiya, visited the village to know the actual reason behind the attack.
“The villagers have confirmed that they were attacked because of their religion. Some villagers admitted that they attacked and beat Mukka and his fellow Christians because they do not take part in village activities and pray to other gods despite several warnings,” said Bhatiya.
She further said that the victims were terrified and had bruise marks all over their bodies. “Women and men both had suffered injuries. They were so afraid that they didn't want to return home. But instead of protecting the victims, Sukma police is trying to protect the accused by terming the attack as a conflict over the DJ sound,” Bhatiya alleged.
When contacted, Sukma Superintendent of Police (SP) KL Dhruw, brushed aside the allegations of religious conflict. He said, “We haven’t found any religious angle prima-facie. All the accused have been arrested and a probe is on.”
The Christian families in tribal dominated areas are under immense pressure to renounce their faith and return to their tribal folds, or else they would be expelled from the villages or boycotted, according to a Chhattisgarh-based Christian organisation.
“Number of families have come forward asking for protection from the majority faith followers. Christian families are being oppressed, their properties ransacked and they are asked to revert back to their previous faith,” said Arun Pannalal, president of Chhattisgarh Christian Forum.
(The author is a graduate in Journalism and Mass Communication from MCNUJC and based out of Chhattisgarh)