HYDERABAD, India, December 5, 2019 (Morning Star News) – In an area of central India where tribal animists enlist Maoist militants to kill Christians who refuse to recant, Sodi Joga took it seriously when relatives threatened to kill him, his wife and 5-year-old daughter.
“The villagers demanded that Joga and his family must partake in the cleansing ritual, a puja, which would cleanse them of Christianity and restore them to their previous faith,” Dudhi Bandi, an elder of New Bethesda Yishu Krist Ministries in Sukma District, told Morning Star News. “But they refused to bow to the tribal deities.”
The family had been attending Christian worship services for more than a year in Gadiras village, Chhattisgarh state. When they refused to bow to the tribal deities, villagers expelled the family from their home in the Kalgundapara area of Gadiras village on Nov. 4, Bandi said.
“The villagers threw out the belongings, animals and chickens owned by Sodi Joga,” Bandi said. “Joga did not know where to go. It was his relatives and kinsmen who were threatening that they would kill him, his wife and 5-year-old daughter.”
The family took refuge at a church building in another village for two weeks, and then they returned in spite of the threats, he said. Bandi said he encouraged them to leave as soon as they sense any danger.
“I pray for the Lord’s protection over them,” he said. “Usually in such cases, the village council would let Naxals [Maoist militants] take over, and they won’t hesitate to take lives. We had already counselled them and made them aware about these dangers.”
He accompanied Joga and his wife to the Gadiras police station on Nov. 7 and helped them file a petition. The officer did not issue a receipt for the petition and told them that he would need time to investigate before filing a First Information Report, Bandi said.
About a week later, Bandi received a phone call from the village president.
“He told me that we should not have gone to the police station when it is an internal matter of the village,” he told Morning Star News. “I said, ‘Alright, sir,’ and asked for forgiveness for not approaching him at first. He went on to clarify that only he vests the rights to solve the issues in the village, and that we cannot go to the police.”
Joga and his family had faced harassment for three months prior, according to his petition.
“They would quarrel with us over trivial issues and link it with our Christian faith,” Joga stated in the complaint. “We had been quiet and never said a word.”
In area districts and others nearby in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana states, violence against Adivasis (indigenous tribes) who have put their faith in Christ has reached a level of at least one incident every other week, according to legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom-India.
“Adivasi Christians in Chhattisgarh face the brunt of the anger of their kinsmen,” ADF-India attorney Son Singh Jhaali told Morning Star News. “It is intriguing that the village council and its president, who enjoy supremacy in the village administration matters, decide the family matters also. Even police accept their judgement as final and refuse to file cases against anybody in the family who puts an Adivasi to suffering because of their faith in Christ.”
If a man in a tribal, animist family becomes a Christian, the village president summons his brothers to appear before the local council, and members declare the Christian unacceptable in the community and incite families against him, he said.
“This has long been the trend,” Jhaali told Morning Star News. “The brothers are also made to believe that if they oust the odd one from the village, they can get a larger share in the property or agriculture produce which once belonged to the Christian. They are manipulated to go against a brother who is related by blood and with whom they had spent their entire lives together.”
If the shunned Christian, unaware of the village council’s decision, continues to till his land, the community denies him water for farming, he added; the land is allowed to go parched until it is handed to his kinsmen.
A local source who requested anonymity said local councils work with Naxalites to rid areas of Christianity.
“To wipe out Christianity from the village, the council can go to an extent of exerting pressure on Christians to partake in a cleansing ritual,” the source told Morning Star News. “When Christians decline to join the rituals, as the next extreme step, Naxals are informed about the growing Christian faith, and Christians are handed over to them to be killed.”
Naxalites shot an Adivasi Christian from Narayanpur District to death in February.
Shunned by their tribal kinsmen, new Christians must be supported by strong churches, Jhaali said.
“Once a family puts their faith in Christ and starts attending church, they are in fellowship with the members who care for each other through thick and thin. They are no longer in darkness in an isolated tribal hamlet,” he said. “Their network grows, and they are in companionship with fellow believers and become aware of civilities, education and opportunities ahead that can lead to having a better life, far away from the blind practices and superstitions imposed by the Adivasi community.”
Denial of Tribal Status
Infuriated by growing numbers of those turning to Christianity, tribal villagers in central India’s Chhattisgarh state have joined hands with Hindu extremists to persecute Christians, sources said.
“The Indian Constitution granted certain safeguards to Adivasis to uplift them from their social and economic backwardness, but the Hindu extremists’ have issued inflammatory statements in public gatherings that some of the Adivasis had accepted foreign faith and so must be denied the tribal status,” said the ADF’s Jhaali.
In Orcha village, the local president refused to recognize the Adivasi status of Christian converts Ramesh Kumar Usendi and youths from his church, denying them higher studies and government benefits, Usendi said.
The Christians on Nov. 19 went to the Narayanpur District Administrative Office to apply for caste certificates, as a local council member had suggested.
“We travelled about 62 kilometers [38.5 miles] to reach the district office and submitted our applications and waited for hours,” Usendi told Morning Star News. “The official called us and asked us if I and the youths were Christian. We answered, ‘Yes.’ He was very angry that we applied for caste certificates and started using filthy language against us.
“The officer then tore our application letters and dumped them in the dust bin and asked us to never appear before him.”
Older villagers at least recognize the Christians as kinsmen, he said, but younger ones view them as competitors for jobs, he said.
“In the Hindu Sanghatan [Hindu Union] meetings, they are told that Christian Adivasis would compete against them for government jobs,” he said. ‘They want to limit our access to higher education and government benefits. In Orcha village alone, there must be at least 500 to 600 Christians who suffer this social inequality. Christian youths have at least studied 10th grade, but most of them do not possess a caste certificate.”
The Supreme Court and the High Court of Ranchi have held that Tribal status shall continue even after conversion to Christianity. In a 2004 case, the Supreme Court ruled that a tribal person, even after converting to another religion, would not lose Scheduled Tribe status. In February, the Chhattisgarh High Court affirmed that the Tribal status shall continue even if the tribal person converts to Christianity.
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Source: Christian Headlines