More than 600 Christian tribals remained displaced on Christmas Day in India’s Chhattisgarh state, a week after radical Hindu nationalists launched a spate of attacks on them in 20 villages, vandalizing their homes, churches and properties for refusing to “re-convert” to Hinduism.
The attacks took place last Sunday in 20 villages in the districts of Narayanpur and Kondagaon as Christians gathered for worship, the U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern said.
The attackers used bamboo sticks to attack Christians and looted and destroyed their homes and desecrated three churches, ICC continued. Several people were severely injured and hospitalized, while others fled to the jungle or to nearby police stations, it added.
The attacks were reported in the villages of Borpal, Modenga, Palna, Gohda, Aamasara, Modenga, Kongera, Mainpur, Kibai Balenga, Puswal, Kokdi, Kulhad, Khargaon and Shantinagar, among others.
“Small kids and women with their families were sitting in open places in biting cold, with no food or water, warming their hands with their breath,” a witness was quoted as saying.
Christians reported the attacks to authorities but police allegedly told them to fend for themselves.
Some of the displaced Christians are being kept in community halls and a stadium in the region.
Attacks against tribal Christians have increased since radical Hindu groups launched a campaign in 2020 to stop the country’s tribal, or indigenous, people from converting to Christianity. These groups have been demanding that the government ban those who convert from receiving education and employment opportunities.
Most tribals do not identify as Hindus; they have diverse religious practices and many worship nature. However, the government’s Census deems them to be Hindu.
“Christian persecution has skyrocketed in India since Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP (Bharatiya Janta Party) took power in 2014,” ICC President Jeff King said. “With the goal to set up India as a Hindu nation, they have passed laws and enforced policies targeting Christians. The attacks this week are the result of this overarching hostility toward followers of Christ. It has created an increasingly dangerous climate for Indian believers.”
In September 2020, tribal villagers vandalized 16 houses belonging to Christians from the same tribe in three separate attacks in Chhattisgarh, forcing most of the Christian women in those villages to flee into jungles for safety at the time.
Christians make up only 2.3% of India’s population, and Hindus comprise about 80%.
The watchdog group Open Doors USA, which monitors persecution in over 60 countries, reports that “Hindu radicals often attack Christians with little to no consequences.”
“Hindu extremists believe that all Indians should be Hindus and that the country should be rid of Christianity and Islam,” an Open Doors fact sheet on India explains. “They use extensive violence to achieve this goal, particularly targeting Christians from a Hindu background. Christians are accused of following a ‘foreign faith’ and blamed for bad luck in their communities.”
ICC quoted a local Christian leaders as saying that the large-scale violent attacks in Chhattisgarh brought back “traumatic memories” of the violence in Orissa state’s Kandhamal district, which is also a tribal-majority district.
The leader was referring to August 2008 when radical Hindu nationalists killed at least 39 Christians and destroyed 3,906 homes. “These incidents have shocked the entire Christian community in the state, and the sad thing is that the people in authority did not bother to help.”