Tensions over 'religious conversion' have escalated in the Bastar division of Chhattisgarh with fresh violence in the last two days.
On Monday, 2 January 2023, a protest organised by a group of tribals, led by right wing leaders, in Narayanpur district over alleged 'forced conversion' of members of tribal community into Christianity turned violent, leaving a church vandalised.
A video of the church, which was built on the premises of Vishwa Dipti High School in Narayanpur, located merely a kilometre away from the district headquarters, showed broken chairs and papers scattered around.
Another video captured a man vandalising a statue of Virgin Mary installed on the premises of the church. Another statue of Jesus Christ was damaged in the incident, too.
On Tuesday, an FIR was lodged against over 40 people, and nine others, including BJP's Narayanpur district president Roop Sai Salam, were arrested, police sources told The Quint.
The mob allegedly attacked the members of the police force who tried to intervene, leaving Narayanpur's Superintendent of Police Sadanand Kumar with a serious head injury. Kumar was rushed to the district hospital for treatment.
'Had Asked Leaders to Protest Peacefully': Narayanpur Administration
Talking to the media later, SP Kumar said that he and district collector Ajeet Vasant had met with the protesters – and asked them to keep the demonstration peaceful.
According to a press note issued by the police, leaders like Roop Sai Salam, Narayan Markam, and 2,000 others had gathered to 'discuss social issues' on 2 January 2023.
Roop Sai Salam is the current district president of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Naryanpur, while Narayan Markam is the former district president.
"After the meeting, the crowd dispersed into different groups armed with sticks and bamboos, and started moving towards the city with the aim to damage the place of worship (which is located in the school premises) of a particular community."Press note
Monday Protest Permitted After Violence Erupted on Sunday
In a separate incident, on Sunday, 1 January, a fight broke out between the tribals who converted to Christianity and non-Christian tribes in Gorra village. Several people, including a policeman, suffered injuries.
Condemning the violence, Arun Pannalal, president of the Christian Community Forum of Chhattisgarh, blamed the administration for its failure to prevent such incidents.
The administration should have been proactive in preventing such attacks. It's a failure of the administration.. they have not taken proper steps at the right time. Such incidents have been going on for the last year with the Christian community being targeted.Arun Pannalal
Narayanpur district has been at the centre of a storm over tribal Christians allegedly facing discrimination at the hands of non-Christian residents of tribal villages.
These two incidents come merely two weeks after 14 families in Borawand village were allegedly forced out of their homes by other villagers and asked "never to return" on Sunday, 18 December 2022.
What Happened in Gorra Village?
A tribal Christian woman, who was taken to the district hospital after the violence broke out on Sunday, claimed that a mob of around 400-500 people assembled at the village and attacked them.
"We were called for a meeting in Gorra village and when we reached there, other tribals started beating us. Both men and women were thrashed and chased into the forests."A Tribal Christian
Many like her alleged that the villagers attacked them "because we follow Christianity."
"They accused us of following Christianity. They said that we were leaving the tribal culture and changing our religion... They accused us of following the foreign religion, and thrashed us."
Another villager, pointing towards his head, expressed that he was riding his motorcycle, when he was stopped and allegedly attacked with bamboo sticks.
They attacked us with rods. My head is swollen and bleeding. A lot of people were there. We were going on a motorcycle when they stopped us and accused us of opposing them. They also attacked us with bamboo sticks.the villager
Speaking to the media, Narayanpur Assistant Superintendent of Police, Hemsagar Sidar, described the incident as "a clash between two groups." He added that a fight broke out between the two sides over a dispute, and four people from each side suffered injuries.
"A fight broke out between two sides in Gorra village, which falls under Edka police station limits. We have brought in four people from each side, who sustained injuries in the fight. We have also deployed adequate police force in the area, and an investigation is underway."
Sidar further said that the incharge of Edka police station also sustained injuries while he was attempting to intervene, adding that the policeman was taken to a hospital and his condition is stable.
Coordinated Attacks Against Christians in Narayanpur
For months now, Narayanpur, which has a heavy Maoist presence, has witnessed tensions brewing between villagers and members of the tribe who allegedly converted to Christianity.
After their expulsion from the village last month, the tribals families walked to the district headquarters of Narayanpur to meet the district collector on Monday, 19 December 2022.
The administration then made arrangements for the families to stay at an indoor stadium in Narayanpur.
After 10 days, on Thursday, 29 December 2022, some returned to their villages amidst opposition. However, around 80 people are still homeless and continue to live in exile.