By BosNewsLife Asia Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
NEW DELHI, INDIA (BosNewsLife)– Several Christian families in eastern India faced uncertainty Saturday, May 11, after local authorities threatened to cut them off from water and other basic amenities and confiscate their land if they do not convert to Hinduism, activists said.
Hindu hardliners target at least five families of the evangelical Believers Eastern Church congregation in the village of Bahardi, local Christians confirmed in published remarks.
The village is in the Latehar District of India’s Jharkhand state where Hindu authorities have reportedly threatened to imprison devoted Christians, including pastors and other preachers. Church sources said Christians in Bahardi have come under pressure from Hindu extremists led by a villager publicly identified as Baleswer Oraon.
“The Christian community in the village and surrounding area are now living in terror that anything could happen to them,” said Motilal Oraon, an affected family member, in a statement. “Our lives are in the hands of people who want to see us destroyed if we do not give in to their wishes,” the Christian added in remarks distributed by advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
“The local administrative offices and law enforcement agencies are not paying any attention to our plight. We are no longer sure how the future will be. Our children’s education and social growth are in total uncertainty,” Oraon added.
The latest standoff comes a month after dozens of Hindu families reportedly held a village meeting where they agreed that Christian families could no longer use the village water-pump, which is a government facility. The Christians also learned that the village leadership confiscated their agricultural land and that government food rations were halted, explained CSW, which follows the situation
“It is highly concerning to see these religious minority families being harassed because of their faith,” added CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas.
“It is their fundamental right to experience the religion of their choice freely. We call on the authorities to take the necessary steps to safeguard the fundamental rights of these families and to ensure that the perpetrators of intolerance and hate are brought to justice,” he told BosNewsLife in a statement. “The authorities must also restore the Christians’ land and access to basic services.”
The latest incident isn’t the first time that the five families are under pressure from local villagers to convert, according to activists.
In November 2017 building materials of Madwari Oraon, one of the Christians affected, were reportedly destroyed in a suspected arson attack. The Christian man had purchased wood under a government scheme to build the roof of his home.
CSW quoted local sources as saying that the attack was a “deliberate attempt” to prevent him from completing the construction of his house because he is a Christian.
“When an attempt was made to register a police complaint against the perpetrators, the police made all five families go through a Hindu conversion ritual presided over by a Hindu priest at the police station. During the ritual they were forced to drink ‘holy water,’ and ‘holy ash’ was applied on their foreheads,” CSW recalled.
The attacks come amid broader concerns about the treatment of minority Christians in India, a heavily Hindu nation. Activists say that violence against minority Christians increased since Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in 2014 amid public anger at corruption and economic difficulties.
“The view of the nationalists is that to be Indian is to be Hindu, so any other faith—including Christianity—is considered non-Indian,” said advocacy group Open Doors in a recent assessment. “Additionally, in some regions of the country, converts to Christianity from Hinduism experience extreme persecution, discrimination, and violence,” Open Doors added.
Since late 2017 violence included attacks against five Christian women, aged 20 to 35. On June 19, 2018, the young women performed a street play in Jharkhand state where they were kidnapped and then gang-raped in a forest, several sources said. Police reportedly claimed that the attackers were filming the assault on mobile phones.
Earlier on January 20, 2018, the body of Pastor Gideon Periyaswamy was found hung from the thatched roof of his house in the town of Adaiyalachery in the Kanchipuram District of Tamil Nadu state, according to Christians familiar with the attack. He was reportedly killed within a week after he complained to police about opposition from Hindu extremists.
The murder also followed an attack on December 14, 2017, when police detained a carol-singing group belonging to St. Ephrem’s Theological College in Satna in Madhya Pradesh state following a complaint from “radical Hindu activists,” Open Doors said. The Hindu extremists reportedly accused the Christians of being involved in “religious conversion.”
Rights groups suggest that conversion charges are increasingly used to target Christians, who comprise just over two percent of India’s population of roughly 1.3 billion people.