At least seven Christian families were forced to flee from their homes in the Jharkhand state of India this month after receiving threats and facing harassment from a Hindu mob, a global human rights advocacy group reports.
According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, which advocates for religious freedom in over 20 countries, the seven families were forced from Masiya Mahuwatoli village on June 12 after a mob of about 200 villagers was riled up by the activist group Hindu Jagran Manch.
HJM is a group affiliated with the Vishva Hindu Parishad, a right-wing Hindu nationalist organization.
Sources told CSW that the displaced families include one pregnant woman and the families are reportedly seeking shelter in neighboring villages.
Three other families that were targeted reportedly forcefully converted to Hinduism, according to CSW.
The sources explained that the representatives of the HJM made a list of Christian families in the village who would be instructed to recant their faith or face potential consequences.
When the families refused the demands to convert, the villagers became violent.
The villagers reportedly threatened the Christian families with excommunication, a ban from using the village road, a ban from accessing community water as well as exclusion from all government rations. Additionally, about 12 kids were said to have been banned from going to the local school.
The sources added that the woman who was nine months pregnant, Anima Munda, was forced to walk about four miles to seek refuge in the neighboring village.
Two days later, sources told CSW that 22 HJM members entered a Christian home and dragged a Christian man and his mother out to the street. The two were later taken to a temple to renounce their faith.
“When they refused, their Bibles were burnt and the perpetrators carried out a conversion ceremony,” CSW explained in a press release. “On the same evening, members of HJM attacked the home of a man named Mangra Munda. His home was damaged as a result of attempts by the perpetrators to get in. Mangra told local sources they were going to kill him, but he was able to escape as it was dark.”
According to CSW, about 37 of the villages’ 47 Christians have escaped and now live in fear as some of their elderly parents are still in the village and in need of care.
On June 17, the Christian families reportedly filed a complaint with the local police department.
“CSW is deeply concerned for the wellbeing of the Christian families who have been forced to either convert or run for their lives,” CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said in a statement. “The freedom to choose a religion is a fundamental right afforded to every Indian citizen. We urge the local authorities to prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes, to give full protection to these families, and to take the necessary steps to ensure that Christian families in Masiya Mahuwatoli village are able to live without fear and intimidation.”
The alleged assault on the Christian community in Masiya Mahuwatoli village is not the first time Christians have been forced out of their villages in Jharkhand state.
In 2018, International Christian Concern reported that 10 Christian families in the Pahli village of Latehar district of the state were forced to flee from their homes after local radicals demanded they renounce their faith.
India ranks as the 10th-worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Door USA’s 2019 World Watch List.
“Since the current ruling party took power in 2014, attacks have increased, and Hindu radicals believe they can attack Christians with no consequences,” Open Doors USA, a leading Christian persecution watchdog active in dozens of countries, reported in a factsheet.
“As a result, Christians have been targeted by Hindu nationalist extremists more and more each year. The view of the nationalists is that to be Indian is to be Hindu, so any other faith — including Christianity — is considered non-Indian.”
On June 10th, a Christian evangelist was reportedly arrested in the Kerala state and accused of forcing conversions when he went to visit patients in a hospital. According to International Christian Concern, evangelist Boban Koshy was arrested for distributing religious pamphlets.
Although he was released, Koshy claims he is still being harassed and monitored by police. Koshy is among the many religious leaders in India that have been arrested on accusations of forcible conversion, which is a crime in certain Indian states.
In the Odisha state, a Christian school that educated over 250 tribal children was demolished in May after a Hindu radical group put pressure on local authorities to do so.
Last week, the U.S. State Department released its annual report on international religious freedom. The report, which analyzes the state of religious freedom in all countries, highlighted extremist Hindu mob attacks on religious minority communities that include Christians and Muslims.
The State Department report cited NGOs that have voiced concern that the Indian government “often protected perpetrators from prosecution.”
“As of November, there were 18 such attacks, and eight people killed during the year,” the State Department report explains.