A group of ethnic Christians in a remote, hill village in Bangladesh are living in fear after their church was recently attacked by presumed Buddhist mobs.
The Bawm Tribal Baptist Church in Sundrapara village in Bangladesh’s Rangamati district of southeastern Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) was attacked and vandalized the nights of July 15 and July 22. Established in 2008, the church witnessed the conversion of some 30 ethnic families to Christianity from Buddhism. Most families returned to their old faith, but eight families continued to practice Christianity. Radical Buddhists have allegedly threatened Christian villagers, forcing them to reconvert to Buddhism, which they have refused. However, violence targeting minority ethnic Christians is rare.
Jyotilaso Chakma, 45, is the head pastor of the Bawm Tribal Baptist Church. He is a farmer who makes a living from cultivating vegetables and fruits, taking care of his family of nine members, including seven children. An ethnic Chakma, the pastor spoke to Aid to the Church in Need about the recent violence:
“There were two attacks on our church. Dozens of men wearing black masks attacked the church and badly damaged its brick wall, tin roof, gate, windows and the Cross. As the attacks took place, I fled to the forest with my family out of fear. I have no idea who the attackers were and villagers told me they couldn’t recognize the rioters. It seems they were not local, possibly outsiders.
“Personally, I have never been threatened and forced to renounce my faith. But some villagers told me that they have been threatened and asked to go back to Buddhism. The leader of the attackers told villagers to get ready for worse if they don’t leave the Christian faith or if they report the attack to the police.
“Prior to 2008, there were no Christians in the village. I became Christian because I liked Christians and one of my cousins also converted to Christianity with his family. I have known ethnic Christians and my cousin brother also shared with me about Christianity. I really liked the Christian way of prayer and the way of life centered around the Church.
“There are only eight Christian families in the village. Others have returned to Buddhism due to various reasons. I can say they didn’t have strong faith, so they left. Christian villagers continued to join prayers in the church until the recent attacks. Now, the church is in ruins, so we pray at home.
“We didn’t go to the police, fearing further attacks. I have talked to the village leader for cooperation between Buddhists and Christians in the village. I have also informed our Church leadership in district headquarters in Rangamati. A pastor has been assigned to look into our problem and he will visit us soon to help us. I hope we will be able to establish peace and live in harmony.
“This attack on the church is unprecedented. I had not heard about any incident of violence against any church or Christian group in our district. Since the attacks, I have been living in fear and misery. I am afraid to go out to work. I am in a dilemma to talk about the problem with others. We would like get assurance for our safety and security, and we want to live in peace. I still have doubts whether we can really live in peace without any kind of repression.
“No matter what, I will stick to my faith. If necessary, I will relocate to any other place and I will continue to be a Christian.”