INDIA: Christian family attacked in Chhattisgarh

India mapThree members of a Christian family in Chhattisgarh state who converted from Hinduism in 2020 have been attacked by other villagers because of their faith. The attack took place on 12 February in Gufanpal village, Sukma district.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that tensions rose on 6 February at around 8 am when Ayatu Ram Podiyami (35) was approached by a group of twenty people who asked him if he would convert back to Hinduism. When he refused, a mob of around 250 people gathered at his house and pressurised him to renounce his Christian faith. Ayatu fled into the jungle.

When he returned home a few hours later, his family told him that they had been given an ultimatum to convert to Hinduism by 12 February or face consequences. Ayatu called the police but they told him that similar incidents had been reported all over the region and that their hands were tied.

On 7 February Ayatu went to the police station to file a complaint, telling police about the incident and the threats against his family. Village leaders were summoned to the police station on 9 February, but efforts to diffuse the situation failed.

On the morning of 12 February, village leader Ram Singh phoned Ayatu and told him to stay at home because they would be coming to talk to him. Three people came to Ayatu’s house and asked him again if he was ready to renounce his faith. When he refused, they hit him with rods and he fell to the floor. His mother and brother pulled him away and the attackers turned on his father Mahngu Ram Podiyami.

The mob quickly grew and again Ayatu fled to the jungle. When he returned after a few hours he saw his father unconscious on the floor and immediately took him and his brother to the government hospital in Sukma district, where all three were admitted. Mahngu was in a critical condition due to a head injury but has improved and there are no longer fears for his life.

Ayatu filed another complaint in the police station with the help of a legal professional on 12 February, but police reportedly fabricated details in the First Information Report (which is required to open an investigation) claiming that the dispute was a family feud and that the victims’ injuries were accidental.

Chhattisgarh state has passed, and is planning to activate, a set of amendments to its existing anti-conversion laws which would make them more severe and would likely lead to increased persecution of Christians.

The attack on Ayatu and his family is just one of hundreds that take place every year on Christian individuals and churches across India. The United Christian Forum, a New Delhi-based human rights group, reported 720 attacks on Christians in 2023. Each incident often results in widespread suffering, with one church attack, for instance, affecting multiple individuals, while incidents are probably underreported due to fear of reprisals or lack of confidence in the justice system.

February attacks

This month alone, multiple attacks on Christians have been reported from several states, including the following cases which typify the persecution that Indian Christians so often suffer, particularly those living in rural villages.

Chhattisgarh: A worship service was disrupted by a group of Hindu militants who entered the church building, abused the Christians and forced those present to perform Hindu chants. On this occasion, police arrived and protected the Christians.

Uttar Pradesh: Five separate incidents were reported of Christian meetings being disrupted and leaders or hosts being taken to police stations where they faced accusations of being involved in “conversion activities”. In some cases, Hindu militants forced their way into the homes of Christians and beat them before either calling the police or bringing the Christians to the police station. Typically, police detain Christians for several days or longer before releasing them on bail but Hindu militant attackers are seldom charged with assault.

Madhya Pradesh: A pastor and his wife were attacked by militants while visiting the home of a Christian in a village on Sunday 18 February. They were then detained at a local police station.

Telangana: A church was attacked and vandalised on 13 February and two days later five members of the church were arrested and jailed. Prayer has been asked for their release and the speedy recovery of those injured in the attack.

Rajasthan: Three incidents were reported in one week and three Christian men and two Christian women were taken into custody. Prayer has been requested for their release on bail.

Haryana: A pastor reported that two unknown visitors joined the church service on Sunday 18 February. They refused to reveal their identity and left with threats. Later, the church discovered that a report about the church had been presented to local police.

(Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Church in Chains India Country Profile and other sources)