Villagers in Chhattisgarh attack a Christian home on Sept. 23 after tribal Christians refused to follow the traditional Sarna religion. (Photo supplied)
Christian leaders have asked eastern India's Chhattisgarh state to enact a law to ban social prohibitions that villages impose on people as a punishment, often for following a religion such as Christianity.Hindu-dominated villages frequently impose such prohibitions, which involves keeping Christians away from village activities and not having social and economic activities with them until they abandon their faith.
In India's interior villages, exclusions can include prohibiting entry into a village's common areas or denial of the use of common water sources or buying groceries from local shops. This makes life impossible and amounts to persecution, Christian leaders say.
"We are being persecuted for our faith, and a social boycott has become a major tool to force poor Christians to give up their faith and become Hindus," Pastor Moses Logan, state president of a Christian welfare society, told UCA News on Oct. 5.
"A social boycott has multidimensional impacts like uprooting a tree from the soil. I have come across many instances where poor Christians were forced to reconvert to Hinduism after they suffered social boycotts to the extent of denying permission to bury their dead in the village."
The grounds for such social prohibitions can be intercaste or interreligious marriage with no social sanction, religious conversion or any other act perceived as a violation of the rigid social hierarchy and norms.
However, there are no laws at federal or state level to deal with such harassment. Christian leaders, including Catholics, want the state government to enact a law.
"We are planning to approach the state government to have legal measures to end this barbaric practice," Pastor Logan said.
Father Josy Abraham, a lawyer and activist of Raipur Archdiocese, said a stringent law is needed to end social boycotts.
"It is a practice totally in violation of the country's constitution, law and, above all, human rights. It deprives vulnerable people of their food and right to live as dignified human beings in the village where they were born," the priest told UCA News.
One Indian state, Maharashtra, set a precedent by criminalizing social boycotts with a law in 2016. The Maharashtra Protection of People from Social Boycott (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act prohibits social boycotts in the name of caste, community, religion, rituals or customs.
Violators who impose or abet a social boycott can be punished with three years in jail and a fine of up to 100,000 rupees (about US$1,500), the law states.
Christian leaders say pro-Hindu groups who want to make India a Hindu-only nation instigate villagers to harass Christians to force them to abandon their faith.
According to the latest report of Persecution Relief, Chhattisgarh has become the third most dangerous state for Christians in India after Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
In the first nine months of 2020, the state recorded 39 incidents of persecution, up from 21 reported in the entire previous year, according to the Christian group.
In the latest case, on Sept. 22-23, a crowd of people opposed to indigenous people following Christianity vandalized 16 houses of tribal Christians in three villages in the state's Bastar region.
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