Democracy Derailed – Religious Freedom Denied to Chhattisgarh’s Christians

By ICC’s India Correspondent
09/29/2015 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) –
When I was thirteen, sitting on a carpet, listening attentively to my pastor at church, I remember a particular sermon that the pastor gave on Christian persecution. I remember the pastor saying, “Days are not far where you (Christians) will be hounded for the sake of your faith and there won’t be freedom to worship!” I believed his message as a word from the Lord, but not for my generation. I couldn’t believe that Christians would be persecuted like this in my lifetime. That was true until I was confronted with the persecution faced by the Christian community of Chhattisgarh.

This was my second visit to the Baster district of Chhattisgarh and this visit was more shocking than the first. I came across numerous religious freedom abuses, ranging from physical assaults to social boycotts, against Christians in the district. Recently, there has been a fresh outburst of violence against Christians by radical Hindu organizations that have made the lives of local Christians miserable and almost impossible.

After traveling for an hour and a half on the back of a motorbike, I reached a village called Karmeri, located approximately 20 kms from Jagdalpur, the district capital. That is when I saw something at the entrance of the village that I have never seen before. A signboard, painted saffron that carried the details of the local Hindu militant organization and the list of their leaders. The saffron color is a symbol of Hindu nationalism and is used by Hindu militant organizations that seek to achieve a Hindu state in India through means of violence and threats. This openness the radicals showed by posting this signboard clearly showed that they had no fear of local authorities stopping their operations.

When I entered the village, I met with many disheartened Christians. Bingu Baghel, 50-years-old and one of the first from the village to become a Christian, said, “We are living in a panic situation. We are harassed. We do not know what will happen and when. We don’t do any harm to anybody, but we are constantly threatened by Hindu militant groups in the village.”

“Neither the police nor the administration takes notice of our cry,” Baghel went on to say. This was the situation faced by the more than 30 Christians who call Karmeri home.

As I continued talking with the Christians of Karmeri, they all told me stories of intense persecution, each taking turns one after the other. One Christian said, “We are not allowed to take our cattle out for grazing. We are also not allowed to shop at the local grocery shop. We even can’t harvest our own crops because we worship Jesus.”

The Christians of Karmeri were, unfortunately, not alone in their suffering. Christians from five neighboring villages have also been made outcasts by the Hindu radicals, which all started at an event organized by the VHP and Bajrangdal on June 25. At this event, the Hindu radicals convinced these villages to pass a resolution under Chhattisgarh Panchayat Act that has essentially made Christianity illegal.

In late 2014, over 50 villages in the Bastar district passed similar resolutions which ban all “non-Hindu religious propaganda, prayers and speeches in the villages.” In Karmeri, I discovered that these resolutions, despite being unconstitutional, have spread to new villages in the Bastar district.

Rev. Bhupendra Khora, a Christian leader from Bastar district, told International Christian Concern (ICC) about what it is like to be a Christian in Bastar district. He said, “We are overwhelmed with this crisis situation. At times, nobody dares to visit the victims when there is an assault on the Christians. The victimized Christians are so vulnerable that they don’t dare to report it anywhere. Mostly, they silently suffer.”

After traveling to Karmeri and the surrounding villages, I reflected on the truth of that sermon my pastor gave all those years ago about Christian persecution and the current state of India. Since the Bharathiya Janatha Party (BJP) rise to power in 2014, Christian persecution in India has become a regular occurrence and Hindu militant groups have been allowed to infringe upon Christians’ religious freedom with little to no government action. This must change. If India is truly to remain the world’s largest democracy, the government must start securing the fundamental rights of all of its citizens, including the Christians of Bastar district.


 
For interviews, contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: press@persecution.org

You are free to disseminate this news story. We request that you reference International Christian Concern (ICC) and include our web address, www.persecution.org. ICC is a Washington D.C.-based human rights organization that exists to help persecuted Christians worldwide. ICC provides Awareness, Advocacy, and Assistance to the worldwide persecuted Church. For additional information or for an interview, contact ICC at 800-422-5441.

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