By OUR STAFF REPORTER

A fact-finding team led by Irfan Engineer, Director, Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, after visiting some villages in the Narayanpur and Kondagaon districts in Chhattisgarh during December 22-24, has claimed that around 1,000 Christian Adivasis were displaced from their villages between December 9 and December 18 after a series of violence in around 18 villages in Narayanpur and 15 villages in Kondagaon. The team also claimed that many Christians were forced to convert to Hinduism.    

Centre for Study of Society and Secularism in partnership with All India Peoples Forum, All India Lawyers Association for Justice, United Christian Forum and other eminent members of civil society constituted a fact-finding team which included Irfan Engineer, Director, Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai; Mr. Ashok Verma, Senior Journalist, Ranchi; Mr. Nicholas Barla, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, New Delhi and Mr. Brijendra Tiwari, Convenor, All India People’s Forum, Chhattisgarh.

The fact-finding team talked to the displaced Christians, the village sarpanch and the Christians who were staying in relief camps after they were driven out of villages. They also interacted with local political leaders and police administration to raise the issue of displacement, to seek intervention of the state government and to ensure justice for the victims.  

President of United Christian Forum, Michael Williams said, “A.C. Michael, former member of Delhi Minorities Commission and National Coordinator of United Christian Forum (UCF) and I met with the Chief minister of Chhattisgarh, Mr Bhupesh Baghel. The chief minister told us that arrest would be made very soon. But till 23rd no arrest was made. We requested him to send the copies of the FIRs and his office assured us to send them to us.”

Williams added, “The Chief Minister had also assured us that the government will try to rehabilitate them soon and also asked us to join him to visit the place to see the rehabilitation process there. And it is now a week since we met him but we did not receive any phone call, not any kind of correspondence from his office about the said visit. The copies of FIRs were also not provided to us.”  

Irfan Engineer, while addressing media persons, said, “There is an “organised campaign going on to forcibly convert Christian Adivasis to the Hindu religion. As per our investigation, roughly 1,000 Christian tribals in Chhattisgarh had experienced violence because of their faith. According to him, in a series of attacks between December 9 and December 18 around 1,000 Christian Adivasis were displaced from their villages in Narayanpur and 15 villages in Kondagaon.

“Those displaced were threatened to denounce their Christian faith and convert to the Hindu religion and if they don’t, they were asked to leave their village or face dire consequences, even death. Many Christian Adivasis were seriously assaulted and beaten with bamboo canes, tyres, rods, etc. At least two dozen people had to be hospitalised with injuries like fracture of collar bones, wrists, etc.”

Adivasis were forced to leave their village and seek shelter in the open during this harsh winter season. “Some of them were forcibly converted to Hinduism. Earlier, too isolated incidents of violence were being reported since October,” Engineer claimed.

“Since no action was taken, the matter got escalated. The situation under which these displaced people are living in refugee camps is horrible. More painful for women, elderly and children. Specially women are in harrowing conditions with lack of sanitation facilities in these camps,” Mr. Engineer said. He said they will be submitting their fact-finding team’s report to the National Human Rights Commission and seek action. There is no rule of law. Police has so far not taken any action despite our complains.      

Ramesh Koram, a resident of the village of Kokodi, recalled, “They beat us up hard with lathis and pushed us out of our village. Gashni Salam of Padnar village said, “They beat me up and I’m six months pregnant. “They beat us up because we joined Christianity.” “When they questioned if we would reject Jesus, I replied, No. Then they beat us up,” recounted Gashni, pointing to the places where the mob attacked her and her husband Khudaram with sticks while he solaced their toddler firstborn.

“The police once promised us that they would speak with the peasants, but they were also ignored by them. At one time, the police told us they would talk to the villagers, but those people did not listen to the police either. They screamed at us and told us that they will take us into the forest and kill us and no one will know,” she alleged.

This in itself is a warning sign on the mood still reportedly prevalent in those villages, feared the displaced villagers. “The first one to attack us was the sarpanch (village head) Jalal Marabi,” said Gonchi of village Kokodi; she named the village head fearlessly in a tone that is calm and determined. “Once he hit us, then the mob followed, some hit us with sticks, others with tyres, they injured my husband and broke his right hand. They beat up women and children. They surrounded us and attacked. There are around four people still being treated in hospital,” she recalled the horror in the days leading to Christmas.  However, almost all the victims said that if they are provided with any kind of legal aid, they would fight till the victims get justice and the displaced are allowed to go back to their villages.

As per the fact-finding report, “Warnings of the campaign to forcibly convert Christians manifested as early as October 2022. However, the district administration ignored the early warnings of threats and intimidations targeting Christian Adivasis. These intimidations were reported, but no action was taken. The administration was lackadaisical even after an escalated and violent campaign against Christian Adivasis commenced around 9th December. No action was taken even though the survivors of this attack filed their complaints with Benur police station and other police stations in Narayanpur. Most tellingly, in Temrugaon, three Christian Adivasis were beaten in the presence of 10 to 15 policemen. The policemen neither stopped the attack nor filed any FIRs. With the perpetrators enjoying such impunity, the violence against Christian Adivasis continued to escalate. There are even instances of police excesses against the Adivasis outlined in the report of the fact-finding mission. FIRs have now been belatedly registered by the police under trivial provisions for simple hurt.”

Social activist and human rights defender John Dayal referred to this as a “very dangerous precedent” and claimed that the government has “weaponised laws” to attack Adivasis and minorities. “Both the government and political parties and even policemen support such brutality against minorities,” he alleged.

The report also demanded legal action against the perpetrators of violence and justice to the victims. The state government must ensure that those displaced from their villages out of fear can be able to return to their homes and feel safe there and are not threatened or intimidated again.    

RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. Some recommendations of the fact-finding team are:
  2. Immediate steps should be taken to facilitate the return of Christian Adivasis to their villages with dignity and with security measures in place.
  3. Until their return, the facilities in the relief camps should be improved, keeping in mind the requirements of women, children and persons with disabilities; ensuring privacy and sanitation.
  4. Facilities for medical treatment should be arranged in the relief camps.
  5. Legal action should be undertaken without any further delay against the perpetrators. Strict action to be taken against the forcible conversions that have taken place.
  6. A Special Investigation Team should be constituted under the supervision of the Supreme Court or High Court to investigate the offences committed against Christian Adivasis. This would prevent any further attacks on the Christian Adivasis in other villages and establish rule of law rather than rule of the might.
  7. Strict action should be taken as per law against those police officers who were responsible for inaction against the perpetrators of violence inflicted on the Christian Adivasis and for non-registration of FIRs.
  8. The homes, prayer houses and other properties of the Christian Adivasis that were damaged during the attacks should be rebuilt by the State.
  9. The victims of violence must be adequately compensated for the pain, agony suffered, apart from the loss of property (house, agricultural harvest, cattle, etc.) and livelihood.

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