There is a sustained and organised campaign to forcibly convert Christian Adivasis to a Hindu way of life, found a fact-finding team who visited Chhattisgarh districts Narayanpur and Kondagaon where Adivasi Christian communities have been attacked by Hindutva groups.
The fact-finding team who visited numerous relief camps and villages and interacted with the victims, as well as the non-Christian Adivasis including Village Sarpanch and residents, said the right to freedom of choice and religion is enshrined in the Constitution of India and such barbarous acts are a slap on the face of the nation.
Adivasis have their own indigenous way of life and it is their legal right to choose their faith without fear as guaranteed by the Constitution of India, they said.
The team said they had also interacted with district administration officials of Narayanpur including the District Collector, Deputy Superintendent of Police, and Additional Superintendent of Police apart from members of political and cultural outfits.
The report of the fact-finding mission found that from December 9, 2022, until December 18, 2022, there were a series of attacks in about 18 villages in Narayanpur and 15 villages in Kondagaon displacing about 1,000 Christian Adivasis from their own villages. Those displaced were threatened to denounce their Christian faith and convert to Hindu religion failing which they would have to leave their village or face dire consequences, even death. Many Christian Adivasis were gravely assaulted and beaten with bamboo canes, tyres, rods, etc. At least two dozen people had to be hospitalised with injuries like fracture of collar bone etc.
The press conference started with a documentary made by the fact-finding team of the United Christian Forum. The documentary presented accounts of violence suffered by the members of the tribal communities residing in the Kundagan and Narayanpur districts of Chhattisgarh.
“We were beaten because we worship Jesus”, said a victim. A female tribal member in Narayanpur said, “The Sarpanch started this. Then, everyone joined in. My husband is currently admitted to a hospital.” Many villagers claimed that they had been forced to ‘convert back’ to Hinduism, follow the tribal culture and give up Christianity. This unconstitutional demand has largely been made by authorities and other village members, allegedly RSS members, according to members of UCF.
The fact finding team found that villagers had attempted to lodge FIRs multiple times but the officers were apathetic and inactive in the matter. “We have been living here for so long. We won’t go home till we receive justice”, a villager stated in the documentary.
The fact finding team further noted that violence had broken out in the two districts on 9 December. Christian tribals were being illegally turned out of their residence till 18 December. About 1000 Adivasis had been forcefully displaced from about 40 villages in Chhattisgarh before Christmas.
Irfan Engineer stated that the Sarpanch of Chimri village demanded the villagers to either leave Christianity or the village, and this case was not in isolation within the state. In Kundagaon, many had to flee their homes on bikes or on foot to relocate to a nearby church. The team claimed, “There is a campaign going on in Chhattisgarh, for the forceful conversion of Christian tribals to Hinduism.” This, they said, had begun in October itself and the related violence escalated around the time of Christmas.
They then emphasised the handicapped nature of state machinery. The inspector at the Birnur police station simply denied registering a complaint despite the tribals voicing one. “The administration continuously said that there was fault on both sides. I suppose the only fault of tribals was believing in Christianity”, remarked Irfan.
Additionally, a key observation of the team was to highlight the deplorable conditions of the refugee camps in Narayanpur and Kundagaon and the difficulties faced by women.
Their primary demands were proper accommodation and rehabilitation of the displaced Christians and prompt legal action against the perpetrators of such communal violence. Michael Williams, President of UCF mentioned the silence of the administration when asked for basic details of FIRs lodged, provided there was no proof available on government websites. He exclaimed that the Additional Superintendent of Police in Narayanpur told them that FIRs were lodged. However, not a single church member or victim in the same area knew of said FIRs. “We met the CM of Chhattisgarh. He assured us that arrests will be made soon and all information would be made available. It has been more than a week. We haven’t received a single phone call”, Williams added. He concluded by noting that Chhattisgarh has seen one such incident and that, the total number of affected people lies above thousands.
Prominent human rights activist John Dayal then, put emphasis on the logistics of the data and the government’s tendencies. He said that the government is in a phase of denial. Data regarding violence against religious minorities, such as Christians, have been erased from the NRCB data records. On the point of opposition not taking up the Chhattisgarh issue, he exclaimed, “Who is ruling the state or the country does not matter. If it’s BJP, they enable RSS miscreants like these. If it’s Congress. It takes a backseat in order not to lose the Hindu vote bank.” According to his analysis, the miscreants in Narayanpur district, Kundagaon and other parts of Chhattisgarh are tribal and other members of the RSS. In the end, questions were raised by attendees about court proceedings and the conclusion was that the displaced Christian tribals who have been forcefully converted to Hinduism are welcoming of judicial proceedings and justice.