Hate Crime Against Christians ‘Peaked’ in 2022; Groups, Activists Hold Protest
New Delhi: On February 19, 2023, a Sunday morning, several Christian groups were at Jantar Mantar protesting against the violence that the community has faced at an increasing rate. They said 2022 was the year when incidents of violence and hate crimes against Christians were at a peak.
As the Assembly elections approach this year in November in Chhattisgarh, a lot seems to be happening around tribal areas between tribal groups and missionaries who chose Christianity either recently or a few years back. Targeted attacks, denial of burial grounds, and threats have led to people leaving villages, affecting the community in several ways. A sense of fear prevails as the community said it found no help from the authority’s end.
In November 2022, Daniel’s brother passed away after an accident. He lived in the Uttar Bastar Kanker district where he had been working on a small business. After his brother’s death, the family, owing to a lack of burial grounds, decided to bury him in front of their own house within the boundaries of their property, he told NewsCilck.
But, some non-Christian village folks had a problem with it. “They said that their devi devtas (local deities) would be angry if this were to happen. They initially did not allow us to perform the last rites, and when they did, that came with repercussions,” Daniel said. He alleged that the same night, a mob dug out the dead body of his brother from in front of their house and left it there, saying they would not allow the Christians to act this way as it affected their faith.
Police were called and the body was taken to a morgue. Followed by this, and tired of such incidents, Pradeep Cladius, a well-known social activist and doctor in the area, along with several other people, went to the Collectorate and met the District Collector. “The Collector is really nice and helpful. She promised us eight burial grounds, as we had demanded in the areas, and said the work would be done by December,” said Cladius. When it was not done, by mid-December, Cladius again paid the DC a visit, seeking an update. This time, the areas were marked by the tehsildars. And now, the missionaries were just a stage away from having a ground to bury their dead,” he said.
“Had it not been for the NOC of the gram panchayats, we would have had our burial grounds by now. In order to get the grounds sanctioned, we need an NOC from the village panchayats. However, all the panchayats denied it,” Cladius alleged, adding that that in personal conversations about the same matter, the panchayat members, especially the ones affiliated with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said that if they (the Christian community) wanted land, they would have to choose Hinduism. As per data collected by the community, in at least 23 different incidents, burial grounds were denied to Christians in 2022 alone.
Members of the community alleged that the nature of such attacks had changed in recent times. John Dayal, senior journalist and social activist based in the capital, who has been working on issues faced by Christians for over two decades now, told NewsClick: The “nature (of the attacks) has of course changed. And mostly by 2022, because this was the most devastating year for us. I cannot help but think that this all leads to the 2024 elections. I see parallel discrimination and attack on Christians, as I see with the Muslims. The target in modern times is more fear than violence.”
According to data from the previous five years collected by the United Christians Forum (UCF), attacks on Christians have “dramatically” increased. There has been a sharp increase of 400% as compared to 2014, from 147 incidents in 2014 to 598 in 2022. AS many as 292 incidents of attack were recorded in 2018, and 328 incidents were reported in 2019. The number of occurrences decreased to 279 in 2020, as a result of COVID-19-related nationwide lockdowns. The number of reported incidents doubled to 505 in 2021.
In 2022, the maximum number of incidents of hate crimes against Christians happened in Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled Uttar Pradesh, with the total such incidents at 334. The narrative of the ‘other side being involved’ or the ‘fear of conversion’ does in no way fit in here if one were to look at the population dynamics and the data that reveal the actual numbers. Christians comprise 0.18% of the total population of Uttar Pradesh, less than 1%. Not just here, but barring the North Eastern states, and Kerala in the South, the numbers are below 5%, as per FIACONA, an independent organisation that collected and released this data in 2023.
As much as hate crimes have had a pattern of instilling fear in almost all states, it has not remained restricted to the same, said many protesting people. Violence and killings also have a major role to play. In total, three Christians were killed and 321 physically assaulted and injured alone in 2022.
The first killing of a Christian pastor in 2022 happened in the Bijapur district of Chhattisgarh on March 17. According to police sources, Pastor Yallam Shankar was stabbed to death by a mob of 50 masked men when he was having his supper at home. The attack took place while the Hindu festival of Holika Dahan (a celebration of good over evil) was being celebrated in the Angampalli village where Pastor Shankar used to live, it is reported.
What is interesting to note here is that, before he became a pastor, Yallam served as the head of the village. During that time, he was vocal in expressing his support for the rights of Christians. After he retired, he received several threats to his life. Hindu nationalist leaders demanded that he abandon his Christian faith and stop supporting Christians. When that did not happen, he was stabbed to death, said activists.
The day after Pastor Yallam was murdered, local police claimed that he was killed by suspected Maoist insurgents. The police said Maoists suspected him of being a police informant. They even released a handwritten note supposedly left by the killers giving their reasons for killing the Pastor. This was a very convincing argument except for a few contradicting details and total negation of the actual threat he faced from the Hindu nationalist leaders, said some protesters.
Speakers and activists of the community at the Sunday protest came from different states across the country. They shared the problems that the community faced in the recent past and called for solidarity and support from the government and the country.
Michael William, president of the United Christian Forum, said: “Today, we’ve gathered here peacefully at Jantar Mantar because we want to share the anguish of our fellow citizens who also follow the Christian faith in the states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and so many other places where their basic fundamental rights are being snatched.”
On almost all the days of 2022, some parts of India witnessed an incident of hate crime against the Christian community, he said. Prayer halls were vandalised, prayers stopped, pastors beaten up, and families expelled from villages.
In the whole year, at least 75 villages expelled Christians and at least 281 Christians were left their villages. Ahead of Christmas, the biggest festival for Christians worldwide, the community in Chhattisgarh witnessed increased attacks targeting their houses. According to the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum, over a hundred people, including women who were expelled from their village, had taken shelter in a stadium in Narayanpur while many others were accommodated at other places, including churches.
Christian community members said they had never hesitated to approach the authorities seeking help. However, as per the data from FIACONA's report, in 11 such incidents throughout 2022, registering an FIR was denied by the police on various grounds.
Some local journalists that NewsClick spoke with in Chattisgarh mentioned how the issues faced by Christians were neglected by most mainstream and alternative media. They also indicated that the frequency of such incidents had increased, and almost all of those had gone under-reported.
In the most recent incident, in the same village of Aamabeda, after an accident, a pastor was declared dead. When the family tried to bury the body on their own premises, they were not allowed to do so for hours, and only after the police’s presence, the body was allowed to be cremated.
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