MUMBAI, India – A brutal murder of a Tribal Christian on April 10 “goes against the pluralistic fabric” of India, says Archbishop Felix Toppo.
The murder was the latest in a series of “cow vigilante” incidents in the country, where Hindus attack Christians and Muslims who are accused of killing cows, which are considered sacred in Hinduism.
The incident in Jhumro village in Jharkhand state happened when a mob attacked a group of Tribal villagers who were butchering a 20-year-old ox in a field.
“In the evening I got to know that my ox had died. It was very old and has been with me for the last 20 years. I left it in my field and informed the villagers. I was not part of the group that went to carve it up,” Adranish Kujur, the owner of the ox, told The Indian Express.
However, after the villagers arrived, Hindu activists claimed they killed the animal.
“The mob beat us for two hours — until we reached Jairagi village, about 1 kilometer away. When we were unable to move any longer, they shoved us and we were forced to walk. Then they beat us again; and the same cycle repeated,” Peter Phuljans, one of the victims, told The Indian Express.
The mob attacked the Tribals with swords, sickles, sticks and iron rods, severely injuring three of them, and killing another, a man named Prakash Lakra.
“The killing goes against humanity, against human rights and justice. Those who have committed this heinous crime are brainwashed by propaganda,” said Toppo, the Archbishop of Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand.
He told Crux the attack was an example of “murderous brutality.”
Christians make up over 4 percent of the population of Jharkhand state, nearly twice the national average. Most of the Christians in the state belong to the India’s marginalized Tribals, who are indigenous people living largely outside the dominant Hindu caste system. They therefore face a double discrimination – for both their religion and ethnicity.
“The fringe groups want us out, they do not want us here. They want to threaten and frighten us to leave. But we have support from all over, from our majority secular Indians who understand our work and appreciate our charitable and educational work. We also have spiritual support from the Lord, and this enables us to continue our mission for bringing peace, justice and development for our people,” Toppo told Crux.
Since 2014, India has been ruled by the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has strong links to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a militant Hindu nationalist organization.
Since then, incidents of harassment against religious minorities have increased, with various Christians being detained or arrested for “attempted conversion,” and places of worship being vandalized.
Since Christians and Muslims eat beef, they are often targeted by Hindu nationalists, with social media often used to generate large mobs to attack anyone accused of killing a cow. According to Human Rights Watch, at least 44 people died in cow-related violence between May 2015 and December 2018.
Sajan K. George, the president of the Bangalore-based Global Council of Indian Christians, told Crux “the Passion of the Tribal Christians in Jharkhand is unending.”
“What was their crime? These Tribal Christians from Jhumro village were cutting the flesh of a dead ox, and they were murderously attacked by the fringe groups.”
George noted that in the immediate aftermath of the incident, three of the injured Christians were charged under the Jharkhand Bovine Animal Prohibition of Slaughter Act.
“To whom do our Tribal Christians turn to for justice? When will their cries for justice be heard? Humiliation, harassment, marginalization and now lynching is becoming part of the daily life of our Tribal Christians,” he told Crux.