India: Video shows church being attacked weeks after violence displaced 1,000 Christians

A video shared by Global Christian Relief | Screenshot / YouTube

A video has surfaced showing a mob carrying sticks and iron rods vandalizing a Catholic church in India’s central state of Chhattisgarh, where area Christians suffered a spate of violence weeks earlier.

The video, shared by Global Christian Relief, formerly called Open Doors USA, shows hundreds of protesters armed with rocks, iron rods and wooden sticks attacking the 50-year-old Sacred Heart Church in Narayanpur district’s Edka village on Jan. 2.

“The mob destroyed everything, the church and the presbytery,” Sacred Heart parish priest Fr. Jomon Devasia told UCA News. “A tense situation prevails here.”

Two local leaders from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party — Rupsai Salam and Narayan Markam — are among the accused.

The attack on the church was part of an ongoing spate of violence against Christians in Narayanpur district as well as the neighboring district of Kondagaon.

A recent report by a fact-finding team said a series of attacks on Christians, who are tribal, or indigenous, took place from Dec. 09–Dec. 18, 2022, in numerous villages in the two districts displacing about 1,000 Christians.

Their homes were vandalized and their churches and properties were attacked for refusing to “re-convert” to Hinduism.

Local tribal organizations have written to the district authorities saying they would not allow the burial of tribal Christians or Christian prayers or church services or even allow pastors to enter in their villages without the permission of the village committee.

The displaced Christians hadn’t been able to return to their villages, as of Sunday.

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 classifies them as Hindu.

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 U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern earlier quoted a local Christian leader as saying that the ongoing violence in Chhattisgarh had brought back “traumatic memories” of the attacks in Odisha 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.”

The group Release International has predicted that persecution is likely to increase in India, where radical Hindus appear increasingly emboldened by the dominance of the nation's right-wing BJP government.

Religious freedom conditions in India have drastically deteriorated in recent years following the election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the rise of the BJP in 2014, a report by the group said.

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