– Several Christian families have been assaulted and expelled from their village by local extremists for refusing to renounce their faith, drawing protest from an American group who says the attack violates the families’ rights under Indian law.
“We here at International Christian Concern are deeply concerned to see that 10 Christian families have been beaten and displaced for merely exercising their religious freedom rights,” William Stark, regional manager at International Christian Concern, said July 3.
International Christian Concern, a non-denominational Christian NGO based in the U.S., reports that 10 Christian families in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand have been driven from their homes for refusing to renounce their faith.
On June 5 the ten Christian families from Pahli village in Latehar district were summoned to a meeting with local radicals. The radicals told them to renounce their faith or leave. After the families refused, they were beaten and driven from their village.
The radicals then locked down their homes. The Christians have been unable to return to their homes, and local authorities are either unable or unwilling to assist them. Local police in Balumat have unlocked some of their houses, but have taken no action against the radicals, 25-year-old Shyamlal Kujju, one of the Christians affected, told ICC.
“We are living in fear, away from our homes,” Kujju said. “It is almost a month since my house is locked by Hindu radicals and there is no attempt by the police or the government to resolve the issue. Our lives are devastated as we hide ourselves from the Hindu radicals. We do not know how long this will continue.”
Father Theodore Mascarenhas, the secretary general of the Indian Catholic bishops’ conference speculated, following violence in another village of Jharkand last month, that “maybe government agencies have been targeting Christian missionaries” in the region, which is predominantly poor, predominantly rural, and the epicenter of a long-running guerilla conflict between Maoist radicals and government forces.
The families in Pahli regularly worshipped in a fellow Christian’s home before the June 5 threat.
Christian Pastor Rajdev Toppo, who is familiar with the area, said it has become “increasingly difficult” to serve in the Latehar district.
“On a daily basis, I am threatened and ridiculed for teaching Christians the Word of God,” he told ICC. “The local government has not been helpful including when cases of the Christians were taken to the police and administration.”
Jharkhand State adopted legislation billed as a Freedom of Religion law in September 2017, but its critics see it as an anti-conversion law. The law regulates religious conversions and criminalizes forced conversions.
ICC said that “forced conversion” is a legally ambiguous term, and radicals often abuse these laws to make false accusations against Christians or to justify assaults against them.
Stark said India’s constitution backs the individual’s right to profess, practice and propagate his or her religion.
“This right has obviously been denied to these 10 Christian families in Pahli village,” he said. “Local authorities must take decisive action to correct this denial of rights and arrest those involved in the June 5 attack. Without enforcement, India’s religious freedom rights will remain only words on paper and attacks on Christians and other religious minorities will continue to rise in both number and severity.”
Earlier this year, Hindu nationalists posted online a video calling for a Christian-free India and showing them trampling a photo of Pope Francis near Sacred Heart Cathedral in New Delhi, the national capital.