Close to a thousand tribal Christians are languishing in camps in India’s central state of Chhattisgarh for refusing to be converted to Hinduism, according to a Catholic priest.
Father Nicolas Barla, secretary of the Office of Tribal Affairs of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, said the Christians refused to renounce their faith so they were pushed out of their villages and were forced to live in the open camps in the middle of winter.
The priest said there seems to be a sustained and organized campaign to forcibly convert Christian tribals to Hinduism in the state’s “tribal belt.”
From December 9 to 18, at least a thousand Christians were reportedly displaced, at least two dozen injured, due to attacks in 18 villages in Narayanpur and in 15 villages in Kondagaon districts of Chhattisgarh.
Father Barla said Hindutva goons armed with sticks encircled churches and forced the faithful to denounce their faith or leave the village.
The priest, who is a member of a fact-finding team that went from Delhi, said his group visited the affected areas and relief camps to interact with people.
He said the new district collector in the area promised to “do his best” to ensure the rehabilitation of the displaced Christians.
In a press conference in New Delhin on Thursday, December 29, the fact-finding team reported the incidents of forced conversions of Christian tribals to Hinduism.
The team included Father Barla; Irfan Engineer, director of the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism in Mumbai; Ashok Verma, a journalist; Brijendra Tiwari, convenor of the All India People’s Forum in Chhattisgarh, among others.
“Strict action must be taken against the forcible conversions of Christian tribals that have taken place,” said the group in a statement.
Manglu Koram from the village of Madamnar told the fact-finding team that he and members of 21 other Christian families were taken to the village temple where a religious leader conducted rituals and declared the people to be Hindus.
At least 18 families from the villages of Udidgaon, Fulhadgaon, and Putanchandagaon villages were forcibly converted, said the report.
In Temrugaon, three Christian tribals were beaten in the presence of 10 to 15 policemen, said the fact-finding team, adding that policemen neither stopped the attack nor filed a report.
Even persons with disabilities, pregnant women and children were not spared the violence, said the fact-finding team.
Bangaram Sodi, president of Sarva Adivasi Samaj (All Tribal Society) in Kondagaon district, said tribals should be free to choose their religion.
The fact-finding team called for a “special investigation” by the Supreme Court into the incident.