New Delhi: Members of the Christian community, who congregated for Sunday prayers on April 30 at a house in Chhattisgarh’s Patan, were attacked allegedly by Bajrang Dal members. The attackers, chanting ‘Jai Shree Ram’, disrupted the prayers, alleging that they were forcing people to accept Christianity.
Patan is represented by chief minister Bhupesh Baghel, who heads the Congress government in the state. The incident occurred around noon and was captured on video by the Christian community members who locked themselves up due to fear.
Speaking to The Wire, Lalchand Sahu, who was present inside the house, said, “We were sitting inside the house. At 12:30 pm, around 30-35 people came with lathis and started hitting our doors, asking us to open the door. Once we refused to open the door, they started abusing us and chanting Jai Shree Ram.”
Videos shared by the victims show assailants hitting the door with their lathis, forcing people inside to open the door. When they refused to open the door, the mob threw water at the people inside and hurled abuses.
According to the victims, police showed up at the spot about an hour after they reached out to them over the phone. The nearest police station from the spot is about 500 metres, said members of the minority community.
They alleged that the police instead of acting against the assailants, questioned them and picked up about 10-12 members from their side. Dr. Vinay Sahu, Krishnakant Kurrey, Archana Sahu, Veena Sahu, Seeta Kurrey, Abhishek Sahu, Narendra Sahu, Rohit Sahu, Kumari Nishad, Keti Nishad were among those who were taken to the police station from the Christian side.
Arun Pannalal, president of the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum, alleged that police let off Bajrang Dal members while taking into custody his community members. “Even police were also alleging that we are converting people to Christianity. There were 300-400 people from Bajrang Dal present inside the police station premises, and they were allowed to be there. But people who came to the police station from outside were taken into custody under Section 151 (knowingly joining or continuing in assembly of five or more persons after it has been commanded to disperse) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and sent to jail. Bajrang Dal members were let off,” Pannalal added.
Although The Wire could contact the local superintendent of police (SP), Abhishek Pallava, over the phone for a comment, he cut the call immediately after he was asked about the incident.
Preeti Sahu (30), the wife of Vinay Sahu, one of the Christians picked up by the police, said that they are constantly living in fear, due to growing attacks against her community by right-wing outfits in the state. She said people joined prayers out of their will and were coming there only to pray and not to create any trouble. “We have been living here for six years and it is not the first time something like this has happened. In the past too, people took us to the police station. And, the police asked us not to pray,” she said.
The videos shared by the Christian community also show some of the attackers abusing minority community members in the presence of police at the police station while the police looked on in silence. According to police, the minority community members were arrested under Section 151 of the IPC.
This is not the first time Christians in Chhattisgarh have come under attack. Chhattisgarh has seen the second-highest number of attacks on Christians after Uttar Pradesh. According to a report by the United Christian Forum (UCF), cases of violence against the minority community in the country have sharply risen by 400%, from 147 in 2014 to 598 in 2022. The top five states with reported incidents are Uttar Pradesh with 186, Chhattisgarh with 132, Jharkhand with 51, Karnataka with 37, and Tamil Nadu with 33.
Recently, two churches in Gazipur, Uttar Pradesh, were targeted allegedly by members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) on April 23. Following the incident, the pastors of both churches were reportedly taken into custody by the Uttar Pradesh Police.
Eyewitnesses, who were present during the incident, had told The Wire that they were interrogated by the assailants in the presence of the police. The incident has raised concerns among members of the Christian community in Uttar Pradesh, who have faced a surge of violence in recent years.