Updated on 31 July 2022
In April this year, when ADF India allies were conducting routine fact-finding visits in Narayanpur, Chhattisgarh, Christians from a nearby tribal village called Kokhameta reported that they were being socially ostracised. They informed that out of the 54 Christian families in the village, only 17 families remained in the faith as the rest were pressurised to leave Christianity and revert to their old religion.
Scheduled Tribe Christians face grave threat to their life and faith, unlawful revoking of their ST status, confiscation of property, denial of water, daily rations and other basic amenities.
Due to such security concerns, the Christians from Kokhameta travel 32 kilometres to Narayanpur district to worship in safety. This is where ADF India happened to meet them on 18 April 2022. After talking to the Christians, ADF India allied lawyers helped them file a complaint with the local police station. The complaint was rejected, which was not surprising because in this village, the Christians are not even allowed to enter the station!
The complaint was then submitted on 25 April 2022 to the Superintendent of Police and the Collector in Narayanpur. When no action was taken there as well, ADF India allied lawyers filed a private complaint on 23 May 2022 before the District Court Narayanpur under Section 156 (3) of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 (Cr.P.C.). The Court immediately issued a notice to the SHO of Kokhameta to file a complete investigation report.
Ever since ADF India allied lawyers intervened, life for the Christians in Kokhameta has returned to a semblance of normalcy. They are no longer boycotted for their faith. Daily ration services have also been restored. In fact, the village authorities have sent four months' worth of food in advance!
The results of the investigation are still awaited, and the next court hearing is set for 30 September 2022. ADF India allied lawyers will continue to stand with the Christians to ensure that they can practice their faith in peace and without fear.
The status of a member of the Scheduled Tribe, and their benefits and entitlements, are not dependent on which religion they choose to follow, or convert to. The Supreme Court of India held in the Niyamgiri Mining case that the government should protect the religious and customary rights of tribals in addition to their individual and community rights. Despite this, tribal Christians continue to live in the fear of being attacked, and being stripped of their lawful benefits, due to their faith. Christian members of Scheduled Tribes are often discriminated against, and their human rights and dignity of life are violated to pressurise them to reconvert to their “original” religion.
Even with the Constitutional guarantee under Article 25, the religious liberty and freedom of the Scheduled Tribes continue to remain under threat and are part of their ongoing struggle. Law of the land needs to be upheld to secure and safeguard the rights of the Scheduled Tribes in India.
You can learn more about Religious Freedom and Tribal Rights in India here.