A community of Gond Christians in India's Chhattisgarh state who were forced to flee their villagers after their Hindu neighbors allegedly threatened to kill them if they didn't convert. (ucanews.com photo)
Six families of Gond tribal Christians have fled their village in the central Indian Chhattisgarh state after Hindu neighbors allegedly threatened to kill them if they didn't convert, their pastor has said.
Following a week of harassment and attacks, all 37 Christians fled Katodi village in Kanker district on April 29, Moses Annel told ucanews.com May 2.
They were "beaten up and their houses were destroyed" after they refused the majority Hindu tribal villagers' "demand to give up their Christian faith," Annel said.
Korar police officials confirmed tensions and said a Maoist insurgency has made it difficult for them to inspect the village.
Police inspector D.P. Shrivastava said tensions erupted April 25 after Christians refused to "contribute" money to a village temple festival.
"It should not be seen as a religious issue. Both parties were tribal people and it was dispute over a donation and it was settled," the police officer said. However, he said he is not aware of the fleeing incident.
But Annel said the attack was based on religion. On April 25, a village meeting summoned six Christian families and directed them to quit Christianity."When they refused, they were beaten. Six of them suffered internal injuries and are still undergoing treatment in a government hospital," he said.
Following the Christians' complaints, district officials intervened and brokered a peace between the parties. All were sent back to the village with assurances from Hindu villagers that they would not harm the Christians.
But on April 29, the villagers demolished the houses of Christians and prevented them from fetching water from the common water source, the pastor said.
The attackers also threatened they would kill them if the Christian villagers did not remove the police complaint, Annel said.
That threat forced the Christians to flee their village to a hill top forest at least 70 kilometers away.
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.
Father Sebastian Poomattam, vicar general of Raipur Archdiocese, said the situation has worsened after Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in New Delhi two years ago.
"Our life has become miserable" after Modi began to head the federal government, he said. "We see a sudden rise in the attacks against Christians in the past couple of years," he said, adding, "These are all organized attacks."
The Evangelical Fellowship of India has documented at least four verified incidents of hate crimes targeting Christians from January to March in the state.
However, Chhattisgarh Christian Forum president Arun Pannalal said there were at least 20 cases of attacks on Christians this year so far.