Christians forced to dig up corpse from grave under threat from villagers wielding axes, clubs

Reuters/Danish Siddiqui
Reuters/Danish Siddiqui

Villagers armed with axes and wooden clubs forced a Christian family in the eastern Indian state of Chhattisgarh to dig up the body of their relative, a 25-year-old man, two days after they buried him on their own private land, according to a report.

The family was forced to exhume the body of their relative, identified as Laxman Markam, who had died of malaria in Gumadpal village in Bastar District on Oct. 29, Morning Star News reported last week.

“When the family asked the crowd as to where should they bury Laxman then, the crowd told them to take it wherever they wanted, but that they would not let a Christian remain buried in the village,” a local Methodist Church Pastor, Samson Baghel, was quoted as saying.

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The mob of 50 villagers claimed that the deceased had been buried on disputed land, the deceased’s brother, Sitaram Markam, was quoted as saying. They demanded that the exhumed body be taken to Pastor Baghel’s village for burial 15 miles away.

Laxman Markam’s corpse lay exhumed on the land for hours before police arrived. The officers then ordered the Christians to dig up the same grave, which had been filled with mud, and re-bury the body.

The villagers had initially demanded that the Christian family not bury their relative on the site allotted by the government for cremations, following which the family decided to bury him on a piece of land they own.

After the exhuming incident, local authorities assigned land next to the village crematorium for Christian burials, Sitaram Markam said. However, the pastor added that soon after police left, villagers said he must not enter the village again and issued threats to the Christians.

Christians in Chhattisgarh state, the majority of whom are from tribal or indigenous people groups, have witnessed a rise in attacks since last September.

The persecution is taking place amid radical Hindu groups’ campaign to stop the country’s tribal 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 identifies them as Hindu. Radical nationalist groups, which have been working in tribal-majority areas to compete with Christian workers, have influenced some groups among the tribal population.

While Christians make up only 2.3% of India’s population and Hindus comprise about 80%, radical Hindu nationalists have been carrying out attacks on Christians under the pretext of punishing the minority for allegedly using monetary rewards to convert Hindus to Christianity.

India ranks as the 10th worst country globally when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA’s 2021 World Watch List.

Open Doors USA warns that since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party took power in 2014, persecution against Christians and other religious minorities has increased.

The group 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.”

Human rights groups in India said last month they had documented over 300 incidents of Christian persecution in just the first nine months of 2021, warning that this year might be the worst in terms of the number of such incidents in the country’s history.

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