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Dec 23, 2022

Chhattisgarh: Rise in Attacks on Christians Shows Congress Is Not Serious About Minority Rights

While the Congress appears to be unwilling to stand for the rights of minorities, at the same time, it is leaving no stone unturned to appease the Hindutva forces by using popular symbols used by the right wing.
Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel. Photo: BhupeshBaghelCG/Facebook

New Delhi: More than 20 instances of anti-Christian violence were reported in several villages of Chhattisgarh’s Narayanpur district.

According to locals, political leaders influenced by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and other Hindutva organisations instigated the violence.

The memorandum accessed by The Wire recorded 20 attacks on Sunday, December 18, alone; 21 separate incidents throughout December, barring December 18 violence; 15 in November; and three in the month of October this year.

The state is being ruled by the Congress party for the last four years.

After the locals protested against the violence, the police took action and registered the first information reports in some of the cases.

However, what is important to note here is that the above-mentioned cases of anti-Christian violence are from this year alone. Over the last few years, there has been a rise in the graph of violence against Christians across the country, including Chhattisgarh.

As per the data collected by the United Christian Forum, there have been 478 instances of violence and harassment against Christians in 2021, recording over a 70% rise from 2020, when 279 such cases were reported on their helpline.

Notably, after Uttar Pradesh (99), the second highest number of cases were reported from Chhattisgarh (89).

Even in 2019 and 2020, the state recorded several instances of violence against the community.

Also read: ‘Over 300 Attacks Against Christians Till July 2022’: NGO Data Based on Distress Calls

In December 2020, Bastar-based human rights lawyer and writer, Bela Bhatia, wrote:

“Christian families said that there had been tensions in the past but they did not lodge a complaint. For example, in 2019, Mukka Madavi’s house was allegedly surrounded by the same crowd, but he got wind of it and escaped. In March-April 2020, a village meeting was held in which Joga Madavi, a teacher we met, tried to reason with the Christian families to give up their faith. When they refused, the families said, other village residents at the meeting beat them up. Such incidents have picked in the last two years, they say.”

Anyone who has followed the socio-political developments of Chhattisgarh will attest that these instances of violence against the minority community also continued under the previous Bharatiya Janata Party-led government.

In December 2018, Congress won the people’s mandate promising an end to misrule by the Raman Singh-led BJP government. However, far from fulfilling its promises, the Bhupesh Baghel-led government has started indulging in a blame game instead of taking a principled view and standing for the rights of the minorities.

For instance, in September 2021, the BJP alleged that cases of religious conversions were rising under the Congress-led Baghel government. However, instead of factually countering the allegation, the chief minister retorted that the maximum number of churches in the state were constructed under the BJP government.

“Media reports on BJP ‘Chintan Shivir’ highlight that the 15-year misrule of Raman Singh is being discussed. Religious conversion is also part of this discussion. Records show that the maximum number of churches were constructed under BJP rule in Chhattisgarh,” Baghel had claimed, while responding to a media query regarding the BJP’s allegation.

It is also important to note that most of the incidents of violence against Christians is happening because Hindutva organisations are widely propagating that there is a rise in the number of religious conversions in the state. However, there is hardly any substantive and verifiable data to prove these allegations.

Also read: Anti-Conversion Laws and the Mobilising of Coercive Power

Right-wing Hindutva forces are carrying out their sustained attacks on the community as they used to do during the previous regime.

And, the Baghel government is yet to take any concrete action to protect religious minority communities of the state, which makes him no better than his predecessor, whose “misrule” he wanted to end.

Moreover, while the Congress appears to be not willing to stand for the rights of the minorities, at the same time, it is leaving no stone unturned to appease the Hindutva forces by using popular symbols used by the right wing, as rightly pointed out by Raipur-based senior journalist Neeraj Mishra.

“Baghel’s policies have leaned towards adopting all the symbols of the RSS and its Hindutva Ideology, like buying gobar [cow dung] and creating a 1,000-km-long Ram Van Gaman Path, across places where Lord Ram is believed to have walked on his way to Lanka. There are several temples in these mythical places which will become part of a religious itinerary that Baghel hopes to consolidate,” he wrote in an opinion piece for The Wire last year.

It is also worth recalling that in December last year, around 20 Hindutva religious leaders had organised a two-day Dharma Sansad in the state capital, Raipur, urging “Sanatani Hindus” to begin preparation for the realisation of the Hindu Rashtra.

Hindutva leaders made open calls to take up arms for the Hindu Rashtra and kill Christians and Muslims. In the same event, Mahatma Gandhi was called a ‘traitor’, and his assassin, Nathuram Godse, was praised.

Most importantly, Congress leader Pramod Dubey also attended the hate speech conclave. Only after much public uproar, the lead organiser or the speaker, Kalicharan Maharaj, was arrested, only to be released on bail within three months.

All these instances show that the Congress government led by Baghel is hardly interested in upholding and protecting the rights of religious minorities.

Baghel is one of the few most sought leaders of the party and very close to the Gandhi family as well as the elected party leadership. It is astonishing that a Congress leader like Baghel, who is at the forefront of the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’, which aims to unite India, is totally ignoring the plight of the religious communities in his home state.

On Friday afternoon, a delegation of Christian community leaders met Baghel in New Delhi demanding his intervention. The chief minister after the meeting tweeted that no one is above the law under his regime and people spreading disharmony in society will not be spared. It will be interesting to watch what action the state government takes.

If the state government further fails to take concrete action quickly, it will only send a message to the minority communities that the Congress government is not very different from its predecessors BJP.

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