Persecuting Christians

Raoit Collective

Bastar today is witness to the most cynical mockery of constitutional values and civil liberties. Under cover of a war to 'save Bastar from Maoism', or 'make Bastar safe for democracy', the Constitution is in fact being trampled to 'make Bastar safe for corporations' and 'purify Bastar for the RSS'. Everyday, every week, there are horrific atrocities being unleashed on Bastar's people. Democracy is being hollowed out in Bastar.

The All India People's Forum (AIPF) team that visited Bastar recently heard testimonies of several Christians in the Bastar district. All of them spoke of systematic attempts to persecute Christian minorities; foment communal division and violence in adivasi villages; bend pro-adivasi laws to communal ends; and allow Hindutva groups to dictate to the police and administration. In this sense, communal fascist outfits already hold sway in parts of Bastar and Chattisgarh.

At several villages in Bastar district—including Karmari, Bade Thegli, Sirisguda and Belar—resolutions adopted under Section 129 (C) of Chhattisgarh Gram Panchayat Act have been wrongly invoked in violation of the spirit of the law to restrict non-Hindus from residing in the village, practicing and propagating their religion, or building places of worship, even though the Bilaspur High Court has quashed such gram sabha resolutions in the case of both Karmari and Sirisguda.

Section 129(C) of the Chhattisgarh Gram Panchayat Act, in keeping with the model of self-governance mandated by the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act 1996 (PESA), that "the Gram Sabha shall have the power to safeguard and preserve the traditions and customs of the people, their cultural identity and community resources and customary mode of dispute resolution". Instigated by the Bajrang Dal and VHP, this provision is being used to equate adivasi customs and culture with the Hindu religion and prohibit non-Hindu practices. Section 55 of the same Act has provisions to prevent land alienation in Scheduled Areas, stipulating that prior permission of the panchayat is needed to build new houses, change the design of houses and so on. This too is being misused to withhold permission for construction of community halls and so on. The Bilaspur High Court on 16th October 2015 struck down such interpretations, ordering that "the impugned resolution shall not come in (sic) exercise of fundamental right to preach and propagate of (sic) religion and their faith".

It is pertinent to quote, here, from the relevant Section (2.11.4) on the spirit of PESA in the Report of the Expert Group of the Planning Commission on 'Development Challenges in Extremist Affected Areas' :
"Section 4 (a) of PESA mandates that State Legislation on the Panchayats... 'shall be in consonance with the customary law, social and religious practices and traditional management practices of community resources'. However, it is obvious that the Provision of the Constitution and individual and community rights provided in other relevant laws of the Centre and States are relevant and their spirit and purpose should have primacy. Justice related issue of criminal, social and welfare spheres would be binding on traditional and customary bodies and also on G S (gram sabha) in SA (Scheduled Areas). Human rights and Constitutional values are sacrosanct and nothing that the traditional and customary bodies do or practice shall be against these rights and values".

It is evident from the testimonies that the role of the police and administration is extremely lax. On some occasions the police have openly sided with the Bajrang Dal, refusing to protect the Christians. On one occasion the police and administration even failed to turn up having convened a gathering of Hindus and Christians, and possibly informed the Bajrang Dal that they would not turn up, thus setting the scene for organized mob violence against the Christians. On the occasions where the district administration and police have intervened, it has not been to enforce the rule of law and uphold the Constitution and arrest the Bajrang Dal mischief makers: rather the ineffectual mode of 'dispute resolution' has been adopted.

The team specifically spoke to Son Sing Jhali, a lawyer who is handling many legal cases pertaining to persecuted Christians. As per Mr Jhali's account, at Ara village, Bariyo Chowki, Jeypore thana, District Balrampur, on Sunday, 5 June 2016, a Bajrang Dal mob of 25 people led by Chhotu Jaiswal, Sonu Gupta, Bipin Gupta, Chhotu Gupta and others attacked the church during Sunday prayers. They vandalized the church; and beat up the pastor, his wife and three others. They made a video of the thrashing and made it go 'viral' (the AIPF team was shown the video). They dragged off the Pastor, his wife and three others (Jagat Das, Mahendra Kumar Shandilya, Rajesh Agariya) to the Bario Chowki where they were kept till night. The Pastor and his wife were illegally detained for two and a half days (from 5 June till the evening of 7 June). On the first day, before the Pastor was produced before the Chief Judicial Magistrate, he was taken to the police prosecutor, who sent police diary back to the police station, telling the police to change the sections under which the 'chalaan' was filed. On 7 June, the Pastor's wife was released without filing any case against her. No FIR was registered against the assailants—instead a case under Section 295A, Anti-Conversion Act Section 4, as well as Section 502, 504 and 505 IPC has been registered against the Pastor who, till June 8, was yet to get bail.

There are several cases of 'rioting' etc against Christian pastors. In fact, any complaints against those who attack Christians are immediately followed by 'counter-complaints'. Such atrocities abound.

Vol. 49, No.8, Aug 28 - Sep 3, 2016