Armed mob attacks tribal Christians in India, burns their Bibles and attempts to rape young woman

Christians meet near their rebuilt church in Kandhamal. In 2008, almost every church in the area was destroyed by Hindu nationalists. | John Fredricks

Amid tensions in southern parts of the east Indian state of Chhattisgarh, a mob of 50 people armed with homemade weapons attacked a community of 100 Christians, injuring at least 27, and attempted to rape a young woman, according to persecution watchdogs.

The Christians were attacked after midnight on Nov. 24, hours after they held a meeting to plan the observance of the Advent season and to celebrate the birth of a child in their community in Singawaram village of Sukma district in southern Chhattisgarh, the U.K.-based Christians Solidarity Worldwide reported.

The mob, comprised of men from the same tribe who were not Christian, also burned Bibles and damaged motorcycles belonging to the Christians, CSW said, adding that the attackers accused the Christians of destroying the local culture by practicing a foreign religion.

The U.S.-based Morning Star News, which reports on Christian persecution worldwide, said the attackers were carrying bamboo sticks, iron rods, bows and arrows, and iron sickles. They attacked a home, where about 25 friends and family were sleeping, as well as an adjoining church hall, where about 30 Christians were sleeping, it added.

“They beat up the children as well as the women who were cooking food outside,” a 21-year-old survivor, Laxman Mandavi, was quoted as saying. “While the children were beaten up with hands and feet, the others were shot at with arrows and beaten up with iron rods.”

Mandavi said four of the attackers attempted to rape a young Christian woman whom they found in a room. “The attackers surrounded an unmarried sister and tore her clothes, attempting to rape her. When she started screaming loudly, they dragged her outside and beat her black and blue. She sustained severe internal injuries.”

Another victim, 24-year-old Laxshu Madkam, was quoted as saying: “It was complete mayhem, and people were running to save their lives. I received two cuts on my back. My motorbike was broken. The attackers broke 10 more motorbikes. They pulled the petrol pipes out of 20 more bikes and let the fuel flow.”

A video posted on YouTube shows some of the injured Christians being taken to a hospital.

Mandavi said some villagers had threatened his father about two months ago. “They planned to attack us, and nearly two months ago had even threatened that they will beat us. We know and recognize everyone who attacked us. Our relationship with them has been cordial historically, but we suspect that outsiders have provoked them against us.”

Mass attacks against Christian tribals were also carried out in the neighboring district of Kondagaon back in September.

In three separate attacks, tribal villagers vandalized 16 houses belonging to Christians from the same tribe and attacked at least one tribal Christian woman, according to StoriesAsia, which said most of the Christian women in those villages had been living alone as male family members had fled into jungles for safety at the time.

The Bilaspur High Court later passed an order in a Public Interest Litigation filed by 12 Christians to seek security for the displaced Christians, the U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern reported at the time.

“A few men attacked me and tore my clothes,” a Christian woman was quoted as saying. 

“I kept pleading with them but they kept beating me. My only fault was that I follow Christianity,” said another woman. 

Tensions in the villages in Kondagaon began after a local tribal priest, identified as Lakum Poyam, claimed that a goddess of the tribe had claimed ownership over those villages.

“Our deity has ordered that all the tribal people in the neighboring villages be united together. I participated in all the meetings where the conversion of Christians to Hinduism was planned. I have been telling the villagers about our goddess’ order for a while,” Poyam told StoriesAsia.

“I have a worship room in my house with a wooden structure in it. During the annual festival in the village, the goddess possesses the most suitable young man, who then carries that piece of wood. The wood then leads the man to a village, and the goddess then becomes the owner of that village,” he added.

“This shows that the ancestors of all these villages were the same. So how can anyone in those villages even think of practicing other religions?”

The attacks against tribal Christians are taking place amid radical Hindu groups’ campaign 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.

India is ranked at No. 10 on Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of the countries where it's most difficult to be a Christian. Open Doors notes that converts to Christianity from a Hindu background are “especially vulnerable to persecution” and are constantly under pressure to return to Hinduism.

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