In an interim relief order dated January 13, 2023, the Chhattisgarh High Court directed the District Collector of Kondagaon and the Police Commissioner, Bastar Division to ensure basic amenities to displaced Christian Adviasis halted in relief camps.
In its order, the HC noted, “Ensure that all the persons who are presently being provided shelter in any of the camps maintained by the respondent-Authorities, the necessary basic minimum requirement for sustenance like food, water and necessary medical assistance be made available forthwith without any further delay.”
It further directed that necessary steps must also be taken to ensure that persons in the camp are provided with sufficient means to cope with the winter by considering “providing sufficient blankets or other arrangements to beat the cold wave”.
Chhattisgarh has been witnessing an increased attack against Christian Adivasis over allegations of religious conversions. On January 2, two weeks after hundreds of Christian Adivasis were forcibly evicted from their villages in Narayanpur and Kondagaon districts, a mob attacked a church in Narayanpur town.
While authorities did not just fail to protect the church but Superintendent of Police (SP) Sadanand Kumar was also severely injured and later admitted to a hospital, as reported by Outlook earlier.
“The Bastar region of Chhattisgarh has been long witnessing unrest and tension over religious conversions, this is perhaps the first time that there seems to be an organised, large-scale violence against the Christian Advasis,” a social activist (name withheld on request) told Outlook.
The attacks, which are being continuously reported since October, last year, took an ugly turn early this year when the church in Narayanpur was vandalised by a mob of people leading to the injury of several policemen.
Outlook had earlier reported that around 2,000 people were present for a meeting held in Narayanpur which was being led by tribal leaders Rupsai Salam, Narayan Markam and a few others were leading the gathering. Notably, Salam is the Narayanpur district president of BJP who, the locals allege, was involved in the eviction and forceful ‘gharwapsi’ of Christian Adivasis for quite a long time. The earlier spate of attacks on the Christian Adivasis on December 18, against which they gathered in front of Narayanpur district collectorate and submitted an application to register an FIR also named Ruspsai Salam along with several other Hindu right-wing members.
Following the January 2 massacre, hundreds of Christian Adivasi fled to the jungle and contacted the police but in vain. Then, they tried to connect to National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) upon whose intervention the police took up the matter and tried to pacify the crowd.
However, these are not isolated events where the situation of the distressed Adivasis has been brushed aside.
The fact-finding committee comprising of Mr. Irfan Engineer, Director, Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai, Mr. Ashok Verma, Ranchi-based senior journalist, Nicholas Barla, CBCI, New Delhi and Mr. Brijendra Tiwari, Convenor, All India People's Forum Chhattisgarh that independently went to investigate the ongoing violence in their reports also talked about the police inaction. In their reports they note, “The early warning of the campaign to forcibly convert Christians manifested in the month of October however the District Administration ignored the early warning such as the threats and intimidations targeting Christian Adivasis. These intimidations were reported but no action was taken which tantamounted to breach of peace in the locality.”
A segment of Adivasis in the Bastar region believes that those who converted are destroying their religious rituals and practices, people familiar with the development have alleged.
However, activists and advocates believe that there is an organised influence of Hindu ideology in propagating violence against the minority religion. According to a report by Scroll, the clashes ‘come close on the heels’ of large public meetings organised by the Janjati Suraksha Manch in Chhattisgarh’s Adivasi areas. The organisation has been long demanding that those converting to Christianity and Islam be denied Scheduled Tribes status, cutting them off from reservations in jobs, educational institutions and legislatures. Currently, the ST status applies to all Adivasis irrespective of their religion.
Speaking to Outlook, an advocate (name withheld on request), said that in his recent visit to a tribal area, where a large mass of Christian Adivasis have been displaced, the tribals demanded that they must practise and celebrate Hindu rituals and festivals such as Ganesh Chaturthi, Durga Puja and so on. “It is scary, that despite having their own faith, non-conforming to Hinduism, they want to be subsumed under the folds of Hinduism,” he told Outlook.