In May 2021, eleven Christian families belonging to Sikapai and Kotlanga villages in Rayagada, Odisha had to flee to a nearby forest to save their lives when they were attacked by religious extremists. Their houses were looted and damaged by the attackers.
The 11 families are the only Christians from amongst a total of around 80 families in the two villages combined. The Christians had previously been facing social ostracization because of their faith. “They often threatened us to disown our faith and join in the religious practices followed by the rest of the village. When we refused, they beat up my parents and even destroyed the roof of our house on two occasions”, said Akila*, one of the Christians from Sikapai.
The discrimination increased in November 2020 when the Christian families in both the villages were prohibited from drawing water from the community wells. The villagers also withheld grains and other essential ration from the Christians. The ill-treatment of the Christians continued for several months. In March 2021, a few of the Christian women in Sikapai who tried to draw water from the well were turned away after they were molested and verbally abused by the aggressors.
On 23 May 2021, several persons opposed to Christianity in Sikapai conspired together to expel all the Christian families from the village. They began coordinated attacks on houses belonging to the Christians. Some of the Christians from Sikapai took refuge in the neighboring village, Kotlanga. But the anti-Christian groups in Kotlanga who had been waiting for an opportunity to persecute the Christians, drove out the Christians from their village too and attacked their houses.
The Christians from the two villages had no option but to flee for their lives to the nearby forest with nothing but the clothes on their back. While the Kotlanga Christians were able to return to their village after one month of taking shelter in the forest, the Sikapai Christians have been there for two months now. Living under pathetic conditions, with children to take care of, the Christians have limited access to basic essentials such as food, water, or clothes. Exposed to the dangers of the forest, the Christians are in constant fear of being attacked by wild animals.
On hearing of the incident, several allied groups from adjoining regions began visiting the displaced Christians and have been arranging food and other essentials to help the affected families. ADF India allied lawyers assisted the Christians to file a complaint with the Superintendent of Police. Our lawyers also filed a writ petition in the Cuttack High Court on July 26, seeking the safe return and rehabilitation of the Christian families.
In November 2020, ADF India allied lawyers had responded to a similar incident of social ostracization, violence and displacement of Christians from their homes in Kondagaon, Chhattisgarh. In response to a writ petition filed in that case, the High Court of Chhattisgarh directed the district authorities to rebuild the homes of 16 Christian families and ensure their safe return. By the end of that month, the district administration complied with the court order and rebuilt their homes and all the displaced families returned back safely to their homes.
Nobody should have to choose between their safety and their faith. The Indian Constitution guarantees freedom of religion to all persons.
ADF India provides legal Assistance to those targeted for their faith through a panel of allied lawyers. To report violence or discrimination or to seek assistance, visit www.adfindia.org/legal-aid.
Watch our training video on Article 25 of the Indian Constitution—Right to Freedom of Religion.
*name has been changed to protect the privacy of individuals