A high court in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh last week asked the district administration to arrange for safe return of a group of tribal Christians who were hounded from their homes.
The court has sought the official response from Kondagaon Collector, who is the head of Kondagaon district administration, district superintendent of police (SP) and the state government after the attack on tribals who had voluntarily converted to Protestant Christianity.
The community members were harassed, threatened, and their homes were vandalized by some locals who turned against them after they adopted Christianity.
The victims were told to quit their faith or face dire consequences. Around 50 Christians fled their homes as they felt unsafe.
On Oct. 12, some of the victims submitted a memorandum to the SP and Collector but on Oct. 14, several of them were arrested after criminal cases were registered against them for instigating communal frenzy. They were later granted bail. They are due back to face court, but no date has been given.
The Christians then petitioned the state’s High Court as they were not satisfied with action taken by local authorities and feared that they could be targeted again if they returned to their respective villages.
The court on Nov. 8 directed the in-charge of the local police station to make arrangements to send all the mistreated Christians back home safely as well as for protection of their properties.
On behalf of the government, the additional advocate general assured the court that instructions had been given to SP Kondagaon to ensure the Christian petitioners reach their homes without any hindrance.
Members of 16 families told the High Court that they and other residents of Kakadabeda, Tiliabeda, Singanpur and two other villages of Kondagaon district had voluntarily converted to Christianity in September but the tribal residents of these villages did not like it.
The Christians were attacked as they refused to leave their faith and follow the traditional tribal Sarna religion of worshipping nature. Some tribals asked Christians to worship idols but they refused, and this led to tension in the villages.
On Sept. 22, a large mob of tribal villagers gathered who attacked the houses of the Christians and caused extensive damage to their properties. A similar attack occurred the next day.
Chhattisgarh Christian Forum president Arun Pannalal said that around 2,000 villagers attacked and ransacked the houses of at least 14 Christian families and also thrashed members of the community.
“These families, with over 50 members, had been asked to renounce their faith,” he said.
Pannalal said houses were vandalized for two days despite the presence of police and government officials.
The Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) has urged Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel to hold an impartial investigation into the incidents of violence in Kondagaon and take preventive measures to maintain peace and harmony in the tribal region. EFI represents millions of Evangelical Christians in India, with over 65,000-member churches and institutions.
Father Sebastian, public relations officer of Raipur Archdiocese, welcomed the decision of the High Court but added that the government must ensure safety for Christians in the area.
“Those people who have moved from outside and have the support of the hard-line Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological brain of the Baratiya Janata Party, are causing trouble in the area,” Father Sebastian said.
“They have been targeting those villages where the Christian population is much less and causing fear among them. It is important that the district administration should support the local Christians so that they can live peacefully,” he said.
Chhattisgarh is currently under the rule of Congress although Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is in power at the national level.
Inspector General of Police (Bastar range) Sundarraj P said: “The tribal community in these villages had some issues with the Christian community who allegedly did not follow local customs and observe local festivals.”