10 Christian families driven from their homes
Earlier this year, Hindu nationalists posted a video online showing them trampling a photo of Pope Francis near Sacred Heart Cathedral in New Delhi, the national capital, and calling for a Christian-free India.
The news is emerging that on 5 June 10 Christian families in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand were driven from their homes for merely exercising their legal right to religious freedom and refusing to renounce their faith. The Christian families from Pahli village in Latehar district were summoned to a meeting with local Hindu radicals who told them to renounce their faith or leave. When the families refused, they were beaten and driven from their village. The families in Pahli regularly worshipped in a fellow Christian’s home before they were driven out.
The radicals then locked their homes and the Christians are still unable to return to their village. Local authorities are either unable or unwilling to
assist them. The police in Balmat have unlocked some of the Christian houses, but have taken no action against the radicals. Without enforcement, India’s legal religious freedom rights will be worthless and attacks on Christians and other religious minorities will continue to rise in number and severity.
25-year-old Shyamlal Kujju, one of the Christians affected, said
“We are living in fear, away from our homes. It is almost a month since my house was locked by Hindu radicals and there is no attempt by the police or the government to resolve the issue. Our lives are devastated as we hide from the Hindu radicals. We do not know how long this will continue.”
Following violence in another village of Jharkhand last month, Fr Theodore Mascarenhas, Secretary General of the Indian Catholic bishops’ conference speculated that “maybe government agencies have been targeting Christian missionaries” in the predominantly poor rural area. The region is the epicentre of a long-running guerrilla conflict between Maoist radicals and government forces.
Christian Pastor Rajdev Toppo also said it has become “increasingly difficult” to serve in the Latehar district.“On a daily basis, I am threatened and ridiculed for teaching Christians the Word of God. The local government has not been helpful including when cases of the Christians were taken to the police and administration,” said Toppo.
Jharkhand State adopted a “Freedom of Religion law” in September 2017, but its critics see the legislation as an anti-conversion law. The law regulates religious conversions and criminalises forced conversions. “Forced conversion” is a legally ambiguous term, and Hindu radicals often abuse the laws to make false accusations against Christians or to justify assaults against them.