Hindutva mob attacks Christians in the tribal village of Chingavaram in Chhattisgarh

Published : December 04, 2020 19:12 IST

A victim of the attack in Chingavaram. Photo: Courtesy: Bastar Adhikar Shala

A victim of the attack in Chingavaram. Photo: Courtesy Chhattisgarh Christian Forum

A victim of the attack in Chingavaram. Photo: Courtesy Chhattisgarh Christian Forum

Madvi Muka had organised a prayer meet at his home in Chingavaram village of Sukma district in Chhattisgarh at 6 p.m. on November 25. About 60 men and women from nearby villages had gathered at the small community church he had set up at home. After the prayer service and dinner got over, most of the guests went to sleep under the tent outside his house.

At 2 a.m. a group of about 20 people, drunk and bearing weapons such as sticks, rods and slingshots, descended on the venue and attacked the crowd. Madvi Muka was hit with an arrow. Shouting religious slurs and abuses at the crowd, the attackers destroyed their motor bikes, helmets and whatever objects they could find, including clothes, mobile phones, footwear, bags, chairs and tables. They tore pages of the Bible at his house and burnt it along with the other stuff. They misbehaved with the women, ripping their clothes. Around seven people sustained head injuries and 20 others were injured in the attack. Attempts to contact the police went in vain as the phone calls went unanswered. The police arrived the next morning and the injured were taken to a hospital.

When the local media reached the spot, the villagers and the Sarpanch justified the attacks, saying that Madvi Muka and the other Christians at his house deserved to be beaten for not taking permission for the event. The Sarpanch was arrested with 15 other people, but let off later after they signed a bond for Rs.30,000.

A member of the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum (CCF) told this correspondent over WhatsApp: “Midyam Yadav of the Adivasi Parishad had told a reporter ‘saaf karna hai’ [needs cleaning up]. He is a government employee as per our information and does not belong to the village.”

Even a week after the attack, fear lingers in the Christian community. Non-Christian tribal people were allegedly exhorted to take up arms and kill Christians, according to the CCF member.

This is not the first time Madvi Muka is attacked. “These people hate me ever since I became a Christian 10 years ago. They have often threatened to beat me. It is my Constitutional right to follow whichever faith I want to. Me and my family have adopted Christianity out of our own free will,” wrote Madvi Muka in a letter to the District Collector of Sukma. Identifying the attackers by name, he requested the Collector to take strict action against them as he feared for his life and the lives of his family members.

On November 26, Arun Pannalal, president of the CCF, was detained by the police at the Mowa Police Station, Raipur, for five hours. “The police forced me to make a Facebook post saying that the information I had earlier posted about Chingavaram, Sukma incident was false. They threatened to arrest me under Section 295 [deliberately insulting a religion] if I didn’t. I was forced to make the post [denying that any such attack on Christians took place],” Pannalal told this correspondent over the phone.

On November 29, Bela Bhatia of the Bastar Adhikar Shala (BAS) and Jean Dreze went on a fact-finding mission in Chingavaram. They found that the village housed 130 Gond Adivasis, of whom 15 families had embraced Christianity over the past decade.

According to the BAS, attempts were being made by the authorities to hide the communal angle of the attack despite the rival groups acknowledging that religious conversion was at the heart of the violence. When reporters questioned Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel about the incident, he made light of the matter and told them not to link the violence with religion as it was a matter of a “scuffle” between two groups. Moreover, he warned people against “rumour mongering” as it could vitiate the atmosphere.

Ever since the Narendra Modi government came to power at the Centre, attacks against tribal Christians in Chhattisgarh have intensified. With the State government too unwilling to address the issue, the minority community feels vulnerable. Pastor Ankush Bariyekar told this correspondent over the phone that more than four years after a church in Kachna near Raipur was attacked (See “Persecuted minority”, Frontline, April 29, 2016), no action had been taken against the culprits, who continued to roam around emboldened.

“Politics is being played over religion all over the country. Doesn’t matter if it is the Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP] or the Congress party. When Christians are attacked, no one hears, no first information report [FIR] is lodged, no one gets caught and no publication or channel takes it up. If we say anything, then we are accused of instigating riots,” he said.

Explaining the history of the violence against tribal Christians, Arun Pannalal said: “Seven districts of south Chhattisgarh, known as the Bastar area, are under the grip of organised terrorism by fundamentalist groups. Their agenda is to create terror, establishing their supremacy and fomenting hatred, which in turn gets them the Hindu votes. In Chhattisgarh, the Muslim community is well organised and has a good representation in the government. The Hindutva goons think twice before acting against Muslims. The ground reality here is different than what it is in Uttar Pradesh. But the Christian community is a soft target. We are neither militant nor organised and do not have any representation in the State government. So, we are at the receiving end of the organised, targeted violence. Community prayer was our only succour and even that is being targeted now.”

The BAS said in a statement: “The questions are many and deep. On the one hand, secularism is a constitutional guarantee. On the other hand, there is a need to preserve the Adivasi culture and way of life. Even so, will we all admit that there are other ways of resolving such differences? Can injuring one’s own brother be a part of the Adivasi culture?”