A delegation comprising of Smt. Brinda Karat, member, Polit Bureau of Communist Party of India (Marxist), Dharamraj Mahapatra (Acting Secretary, Chattisgarh state committee of CPI(M), Bal Singh, (State secretary, Adivasi Ekta Mahasabha) Najeeb Qureshi and Vasudev Das visited Chhattisgarh from January 20-22 to meet the victims and affected people of the recent violence against Christian community. The delegation submitted a memorandum to the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Chattisgarh on January 22 outlining the predicaments of the state’s minority Christian population and urged immediate measures to address the issue.
We are herewith releasing the text of the memorandum for publication.
January 22, 2023
Dear Chief Minister Shri Baghel ji,
Namaskar. This memorandum is to draw your attention to some urgent issues in the North Bastar districts of Kanker, Kodagaon and Narayanpur where there have been attacks on members of the Christian community. A delegation of the CPI(M) and Adivasi Adhikar Rashtriya Manch comprising Brinda Karat (Polit Bureau member) Dharamraj Mahapatra (Acting Secretary, Chattisgarh state committee), Bal Singh, (State secretary, Adivasi Ekta Mahasabha) Najeeb Qureshi and Vasudev Das visited these areas from January 20th to 22nd. The purpose of the delegation was to express solidarity with the victims of the violence and also to understand how it was that such sharp divisions leading to violence could occur among Adivasi communities who had hitherto lived in harmony. The delegation met over 100 people, including victims of the violence, pastors, priests, adivasis, members of Adivasi organisations, some elected members of local bodies, activists, leaders of the Chattisgarh Progressive Christian Alliance. We met the SP of Kanker district, the Collector of Narayanpur, the SDM in Kodagaon and some other officials.
1. We were surprised to learn that no Minister or any senior leader deputed by the Government has visited the area to meet the victims and affected people. We raise this with you because it reflects an approach which we had noted in our interactions with various officials, which is a gross underestimation of the extent of the violence against the victims, particularly women and children and their suffering. There is extensive damage to homes, churches, belongings, livelihood and yet there is not a single family or individual victim who has received any compensation nor has there been any effort to assess the damage caused. Around 1500 affected people who were forced to flee their villages or were forcibly driven out who were in relief camps run by the administration have now been “sent home”. Although assurances have been given for their safety by the administration, we met many families who have been forced to leave their homes again. They are staying with relatives or sheltering in churches. To give an example, in village Tembrugaon, when the pickup truck arranged by the administration with the victims reached the village they were met by a group who were carrying “ tilaks” . They told the Christians that they could enter their village if they applied the tilak as a symbol of their “return” to the “Samaj”— ghar wapasi, otherwise they would not be allowed into the village. Since none of those in the truck agreed to such illegal conditions, they were not allowed to go to their homes. In some villages social boycott of the most cruel kind, never seen before in these villages, has been imposed. We know of the purification rituals performed by upper castes against so-called untouchables even today, but these have never formed part of Adivasi practice. Today this is sought to be imposed on Adivasi communities. There are numerous cases where Christian adivasis are not allowed to touch the common water hand-pumps and if they do, it is washed repeatedly to “ purify” it. In some villages shopkeepers have been threatened not to sell anything to Christian adivasis. There is a virtual ban on giving them work. However, there is no concerted effort by the administration to prevent such blatantly illegal acts. We should mention that we came across incidents where the victim stated that he would have faced certain death but was saved by the police. It is essential for the Government to depute a team of Ministers to go to the area and take the required steps to oversee and monitor the situation. Compensation to each affected family on an assessment of their losses is also urgently required.
2. We draw your attention particularly to the plight of women. We met many women who had been brutally beaten, who are traumatized and terrorised. Among them were two pregnant women. At least eleven women in village Ramvand were beaten badly. In a most terrible incident in this village a group of women, egged on by jeering men partially stripped three women, lifted them with their legs forcibly parted and took them round, finally throwing them into thorny bushes. In Almer village a Class 9 teenager was abducted from her home by part of the mob which had attacked Christian homes and dragged to the forest. She was saved by her courageous grandmother who chased away the criminals. The girl’s clothes had been torn. There is video evidence of women being beaten on the head, on their arms and legs by men. On December 18, 2022, ironically the day declared by the UN as “Minorities Day”, there were almost simultaneous attacks on churches in Kodagaon and Narayanpur. The crowds of lathi wielding men entered the churches and beaten everyone in sight, men women and even children were not spared. A disabled woman who is a widow was badly beaten and thrown out of her house which has been locked up. She says the aim is to grab her land and her home. Children missed school for weeks, some are still out of school. Their parents said it was very difficult for them to give their half yearly exams. It is urgently necessary to provide assistance to women and children.
3. The first incident in this round of violence as reported to us was in Kurrutola in Amabeda block n Kanker district. On November 1, 2022, Chatibai Nareti, aged around 50 years died of jaundice. Her family members with the agreement of village leaders, buried her body in their own land. However a group of men under the banner of the Janjati Suraksha Manch objected to this. They said if a Christian was buried in the village it would be an insult to the “janjati deities” of the village and would bring ruin on the village. Mobilizations started against the burial. A demonstration was organised at the police station led by former BJP MLA Bhojraj Nag who declared that the body would have to be exhumed. The police called the deceased’s son Mukesh Nareti to the thana. It is reported that he was beaten by the mob in front of the police. They demanded he exhume the body or he would be “encountered”. His family members including his sister Yogeshwari were also beaten. On the night of November 3, a group of men dug out the body from the grave. The following day the police took the body and had it buried in a Christian cemetery 100 km away. This was done in the absence of family members who in fear had fled the village. With the direct involvement of BJP leaders this incident should have been an alert to the government. Instead the criminals started acting with impunity and across the region such incidents were reported. This escalated into attacks on the community as a whole. It should be noted that this has not been an issue in the area where Christians have been burying their dead in the village with no objections. Even now in the majority of villages this is not an issue. However it is being organised in a planned and motivated manner to divide adivasis in the name of religion.
4. It was reported to us that some incidents of intimidation and threats had taken place in October too but there was no timely intervention from the administration. But everywhere the Janjati Suraksha Manch is implicated. The Janjati Suraksha Manch is an outfit with which known BJP leaders are associated. Earlier the ghar wapasi attacks on the Christian community in this region were led by the Bajrang Dal and other associations of the sangh parivar. Now the effort is to act in the name of “Janjati” to divide the Adivasi community. In every single case it was told to us by the victims that it was those leaders among the tribals who were affiliated to the BJP, who mobilized and led the attacks. There was one incident referred to by some adivasis we met and confirmed by the Collector that on January 1 in village Ghorra, there was a clash in which people from both sides were injured. This is the only incident where members of the Christian community were implicated in such a clash. The Collector informed us that those responsible from “both” sides were arrested. Following this, the JSM under the leadership of the district President of the BJP led a ” protest” demonstration in Narayanpur on January 2. It is this meeting which led to the mob attack on the Church in Narayanpur on the same day. The delegation visited the Narayanpur Church and we saw the vandalism, the broken statues, the alter and other items used for Mass destroyed, windows and doors smashed. Although some of those guilty have been arrested, the government should act firmly against leaders involved.
5. The propaganda of forcible conversions is not borne out by facts. According to officials there is not a single case of forcible conversion reported. Clearly there is a political agenda behind these attacks, given the schedule for elections to the State Assembly later this year.
6. In our meetings with different groups of adivasis, they told us that their main concern was that the Forest Rights Act was not being implemented. We had informed the officials we met of these genuine complaints. There are two projects of iron ore mining in the Narayanpur district which is strongly being opposed by adivasis. Without taking the opinion of the gram sabhas the government is going ahead with the project. This is highly objectionable. It is essential for the government to ensure gram sabha meetings as mandated by the law. The recent incidents of a communal nature are designed to weaken this united movement of adivasis.
We hope that the government will take the required steps to address the issues we have raised.
Polit Bureau member, CPI(M)
Acting Secretary, Chattisgarh State Committee, CPI(M)
State secretary, Adivasi Ekta Mahasabha