A massive rally of around 5000 people comprising of representatives from 25 civil society groups and several other social and Christian organizations came together on 28 February 2017 in Chhattisgarh to protest against the inaction of the authorities after an attack on a Church a month earlier.
The protesters demanded that the District Collector intervene in the matter and take action against the attackers who had assaulted and harassed worshippers at the New India Church of God in Shanti Nagar area of Dalli Rajhara on 29 January 2017.
Pastor Jacob Joseph’s New India Church of God was attacked by Hindu extremists aided by Women Police
Commandos. Pastor Joseph and his family have ministered at the Church which is located in a workers colony since 2004 and has a membership of about 30 families.
According to reports, on the day of the attack, Hindu extremists assembled and incited a crowd of several hundred using loudspeakers and incited them to attack and vandalize the Church. The extremists alleged that conversion was going on inside the Church. Pastor Joseph sensing trouble called up the police but no help came.
The worked-up crowd stormed into the Church premises breaking the main gate of the Church. They proceeded to vandalize the altar, broke furniture and beat up the people present. Both men and women were assaulted. Women were dragged by their hair and their clothes were ripped off. Women Police Commandos were present at the spot at the time of the attack but they helped the attackers instead of defending the congregation. Vehicles of Church members parked outside the Church were also damaged.
The local police refused to take action against the attackers and instead pressed Pastor Joseph to reach a ‘compromise’ with them. The police also pressured pastor Joseph to stop worship services in the Church and to vacate the premises.
The following day the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (Chhattisgarh Liberation Front), a local political party protested against the attack in a march of some 600 people. They marched to the local police station and demanded action against the attackers. The police did not pay any attention to the demand of the protestors and did not register a First Information Report (FIR).
The same night at 10 pm two policemen kicked open the front door of Pastor Joseph’s home when his wife and two young children were praying in their bedroom. The police threatened the pastor’s wife and the children warning them against praying and alleging that it amounts to religious conversion. They took photographs and videos of the pastor’s wife and children and threatened them, asking them to vacate the premises and leave the area.
Because of police inaction and lack of cooperation from the authorities, several Christian groups and 25 civil society groups protested on 28 February.
“A massive rally of around 5000 people comprising of Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan (Save Chhattisgarh Movement), People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Communist Party of India-Marxist, and several other social organizations took to the streets and went to the district headquarters to meet the Collector,” said Mr Arun Pannalal a prominent Christian Leader from the state to Global Christian News.
Mr. Pannalal is also the Chief of the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum (CCF), one of the groups, that participated in the rally.
“Prior to this social organizations including the CCF had sought an appointment with the District Collector, Mr Rana to discuss the attack and vandalization of the Church and had been given an appointment on the 22 February 2017. However the Collector did not meet the delegation on the 22 February and hence the organizations were forced to take out the massive rally to make their demands known to the district administration,” said Mr Pannalal.
Hindu organizations, in response to the rally had called for a complete shutdown of Dalli Rajhara on 6 March 2017, however when CCF and other organizations reportedly threatened to move a motion concerning this in the Legislative Assembly the shutdown was revoked.
No FIR (First Information Report) against the attackers has yet been registered at the time of writing this report. The situation in Dalli Rajhara remains tense and the Church services have been stopped.
“It is troubling that an attack of this magnitude and the threat to the pastor’s family and invasion of their privacy later on by police personnel has not been taken seriously by the administration even after a massive protest rally. Hate crimes against Christians in the state of Chhattisgarh have continued unabated for many years now. Inaction and silence on these attacks on minorities results in impunity and emboldens the anti-social non state actors while increasing fear within the minority communities. This must stop and the State government must take initiatives to restore confidence in the rule of law,” said Rev. Vijayesh Lal, General Secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India.
Dalli Rajhara is not known for religious tensions. Mr. Arun Pannalal said, “it is interesting to note that on the 22 January 2017 a ‘Sarva Samaj Samarasta Samiti’ (All social harmony Committee) was formed by hard core Hindu fundamentalists alleging religious conversion being done by the Christian community in the area. The attack on the Church took place exactly after 7 days of the formation of the so called social harmony committee. The members of the committee allegedly took part in vandalizing the Church.”