It’s been a month since Mangal Mandavi and his family members were attacked by people — presumed to be VHP activists and those re-converted by them from Christianity to Hinduism — in Madhota village. But one month has not proved sufficient to recover from the shock for Mandavi’s wife, who is still too afraid to speak. “Please leave her alone, don’t ask her anything,” is all Mandavi says.
The Mandavis are among 10-15 Christian families left in Madhota, a village in Bastar. Until September, the village had about 35 Christian families. But that was before many of them “re-converted” to Hinduism in a series of “ghar shuddhikaran” or “ghar wapsi” programmes organised by the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), which believes that the “population of followers of Western religion is rapidly increasing in Bastar”.
The village has about 2,000 households, all tribals. Even before the conversions began, Christians comprised no more than 2.5 per cent of the population.
In the past five months, communal tension has increased in the otherwise peaceful area. The VHP has been holding meetings in villages to make people “aware about the intrusion of Christians”. It has also been pressuring local administration and police to take action against missionaries, and writing letters to the CM and the Governor about the “communal activities of Christians”.
Sunday’s joint statement released by the VHP and the missionaries was the latest example. Under pressure from the VHP, the Catholic missionaries of Bastar agreed that principals in their schools, normally referred to as “Father”, would now be addressed as “Pracharya”, or “Up-pracharya”, or “Sir”. The missionaries also agreed to put up photographs of “Maa Saraswati” in their educational institutions.
But many Christians termed the ‘joint statement’ a fraud. “The man (spokesperson of the Bastar Catholic Community) was pressured to sign the statement. The Bishop did not authorise such a resolution. It’s a hoax, we demand a probe into it,” Chhattisgarh Christian Forum’s (CCF) president Arun Pannalal told The Indian Express.
In June, soon after the NDA government came to power at the Centre, some Gram Sabhas, assisted by the VHP, passed resolutions banning “the entry of non-Hindu missionaries” in villages in Bastar’s Lohandiguda area.
On October 7, BJP’s Bastar MP Dileep Kashyap reached Madhota village with a group of VHP men, washed the feet of a few Christians and claimed to have brought some 15 families “back to Hinduism”. On October 24, the VHP held another programme and 10 more families were “made Hindu”.
Between the two ceremonies, nearly two dozen people were injured in a clash between the two communities. Villagers said the violence was allegedly initiated by VHP members armed with swords and spears.
“The government and the administration not only overlooked the issue, they also colluded with the VHP to organise these programmes,” alleged Pannalal.
Bastar SP Ajay Yadav blamed “outsiders” for the “tension between two groups”.
The VHP claims their activities are only in response to the massive conversions being organised by Christians in Bastar. Bastar’s VHP president Suresh Yadav said, “They allure and intimidate people and instigate them against each other,” he said.
The tension has created a rift within Madhota village. With their numbers diminishing, Christian families feel isolated. Mandavi’s brother, who lives in the house next to his, is a Hindu, but they don’t question each other’s faith. “I had severe ailments and the church told me that if I follow their prayers, I would recover, which I eventually did. My brother never questioned me,” says Mandavi.
Laxman Mandavi, who recently converted to Hinduism, has a peculiar problem at hand. He says Hindus haven’t welcomed him with open arms and Christians, too, have shunned him now. The problem, it seems, is not just limited to his family.