The State of Chhattisgarh witnessed at least six incidents of targeted violence against Christians in April 2020 despite the national lockdown being in place.
In most incidents, Christians were summoned to village meetings when they refused to participate in religious rituals that violate their conscience. They were called on the pretext of working out a compromise but were instead threatened to either comply with the diktats of the village council or face consequences. When the Christians refused to go against their own beliefs, they were physically attacked by mobs consisting of more than 50 persons.
Not only did the offenders commit offences punishable under Sections 295A (Deliberately and maliciously outraging the religious beliefs of a class), 298 (Wounding the religious feelings of persons), 325 (Voluntarily causing grievous hurt), 354 (Outraging the modesty of a woman), 386 (Extortion by putting a person in fear of death or grievous hurt) and 506 (Criminal Intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code, but also posed a threat to the community at large by violating the lockdown regulations in place to curb the spread of COVID-19. The police have been very reluctant and slow to register FIRs in these cases involving cognizable offences despite being duty-bound to do so under Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
In addition to all this, in three separate incidents on May 5, May 7 and May 18, in Bastar and Dantewada districts, Christians faced stiff opposition to bury their dead.
They were told that since they haven’t been partaking in the religious rituals of the village, they ought to make “restitution” for all the years gone by without their monetary contributions, along with a fine, before their dead can be buried in the village. It is a terrible and unimaginable thing to be denied an opportunity to grieve the loss of a loved one with dignity.
There was a similar incident that occurred in Kondagaon on February 1, 2020. There have been 15 such confirmed incidents in these districts since 2019. In these cases, ADF India’s Chhattisgarh Legal Aid Center brought the situation to the attention of the nearest police station and the police officer in charge of the concerned district. Upon their intervention, the Christians were provided police protection, and in some cases even provided land by the government, for the burials to take place.
Christians leaders in the State plan on submitting a memorandum to the government to prevent repetition of such instances of social exclusion and physical violence. A petition may be preferred before the High Court of Chhattisgarh at Bilaspur for appropriate directions.