A woman of the Gond tribe in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh makes home brew liquor known as 'Ippa Saara' from mahua seeds in a temporary dwelling inside a forest area. A group of Christians from the tribal group in the state are being pressured to give up their faith. (Photo by AFP)
A group of Christians in a village in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh have been made pariahs because they refused to abandon their Christian faith — an ongoing issue in several villages in the region.
Some 60 people from 15 families in Barbattar village of Kondagaon district have been ostracized because "we refused to succumb to the village body's pressure" to leave Christianity and follow the tribal faith, said Mohan Netam, a Christian leader.
The village is home for some 1,000 Gond tribal people, the largest tribe in the country, who are animists. "Our lives have become miserable" after the village body "banned us from collecting fire wood or grazing our animals in the forest," Netam told ucanews.com.
Shopkeepers in the village are banned from supplying groceries to the Christians. However, they have not stopped Christian children from attending school or collecting water from the public well.
Everyone in the village depends on the forest for grazing their cattle and collecting fire wood. "Now our cows are starving, we have no fire wood to cook and no place to move around," Netam said.
Although the abuse has been going on for a month now, Christians in the village do not want to report their problem to police lest they enrage their neighbors further, he added.
Pastor G.R. Korram of a neo-Christian Pentecostal group working in the area told ucanews.com that the Gond people believe their gods and goddesses will be angry and leave their village if people from the tribe join other religions.
Tribal leaders like Gulzar Singh Markam said the penalties will increase if the Christians do not return to the traditional ways. "Restriction of entry to the forest is the first step, a kind of serious economic embargo," Markam said. "More severe steps such as banning drinking water will follow soon."
Paklu Sori, a village leader, confirmed the social boycott but said they are trying to "settle the issue amicably [but] both the sides are adamant. I feel sorry for them."
Anita Madavi, a Christian woman in the village said that they "are now treated as outcasts." If the situation continues, "it will be impossible for us to keep our livestock and our farming intact."
"We now have to walk at least five kilometers to buy essential groceries and our neighbors no longer talk to us," she said.
Madavi said she accepted Christ after experiencing a miraculous cure from a painful disease and will not abandon faith. "It is Christ who gave me this life and I will not give up my faith."
Thomson Thomas of Persecution Relief, a Christian organization monitoring violence against Christians in the region, said the boycott is "nothing new, but and ongoing issue."
Thomas said people who accept the Christian faith have to face severe social isolation in the state where Christianity makes up a tiny minority of about 2.6 percent. Several nearby villages have reported similar boycotts, bans on Christian pastors and worship and even violent attacks on Christians, Thomas said.
The state, ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party, a Hindu-nationalist party, has become a hotbed of anti-Christian violence with right-wing Hindu groups attacking Christians with impunity.
Christian leaders said police are indifferent to attacks on Christians and that the government tacitly supports violence on religious minorities.
In June, a team of politicians and human rights activists who toured Chhattisgarh reported several cases of violence against Christians there.
Christians were not allowed to buy grocery from the government's public distribution system and were beaten up, their report said.
Christians are being prevented from using burial grounds and not allowed to use common water sources in villages and district officials insisting that Christians must convert to Hinduism or leave the village, it said.
Christians, mostly from various indigenous groups, number less than 1 percent of the population in the Hindu-dominated state.