Four days ago, a group of over fifteen to twenty men, mostly young boys attacked a church in Kachna village on the outskirts of Raipur. They damaged property, shouted slogans of ‘Jai Shri Ram’, and attacked men and women who were immersed in prayer on Sunday morning. With debates on intolerance, and majoritarianism raging all over the country, this incident too, unsurprisingly, hit national headlines. For the most part, the initial response by the Chhattisgarh state government has been to deal with the situation quickly and urgently, making all the right noises. It now remains to be seen if over the next few weeks investigations can bring the guilty to book, because after initial satisfaction with action taken, murmurs have now begun to emerge from among Christian organisations, accusing the state government of diluting the probe.
On the day the attack took place, such was the response of the Raipur police, that even the Christian forum, angered by the attack, seemed to applaud them for their dealing of the situation. After calls were made to the police about the assailants in the prayer hall, the police arrived quickly, so much so that the accused left behind three motorcycles in their haste to flee, providing crucial clues for identification. Arun Pannalal, president of the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum even went so far as to praise the local DSP, who urged people in the prayer hall to continue their prayers, since “it is most important to their faith”, after which questioning took place. Within hours of the attack, three people had been arrested, the number up to nine the next day, with Chief Minister Raman Singh quick to condemn the incident, and promise punishment for the guilty.
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There are several reasons for the urgency shown in the response by the state, primary among which is the political fallout. As BJP ruled states in the country go, Chhattisgarh has to deal with an everpresent Maoist problem, communalism is a label that hasn’t been attached to it thus far. And yet, if there has been trouble on that front in the state, it has been against Christians in the state. In June 2014, village panchayats in Bastar barred all “non Hindu activity”, a day after Christians were attacked in the district. The Christian Forum has pointed to attacks in other places like Korba, and has said that their community is unsafe in the state. “There is definitely a faultline because there are several Christian organisations working in Chhattisgarh, especially among the tribals. Others are seeing this as a threat, and there have been small scale incidents throughout the state,” a senior officer admitted,
With two years to go to the state elections thus far, the political situation in Chhattisgarh is in flux so far. The Congress expelled Amit Jogi for six years pending appeal, with the state PCC also recommending similar action against his father. Troublesome as their relationship with the Congres may be, the Jogi’s are undeniably major players in the state, with tribals a major area of influence. Given the possibility of them breaking away to form a new party, where the considerable tribal vote will go will be of the utmost importance, and it was crucial for the BJP to show that the minority Christian tribal community is important to them.
Additionally, there has been this sense that the state government wanted to work quickly to ensure that the attack doesnt become “another rallying cry for intolerance in the country.” Already, a group of US senators has written to the Prime Minister detailing threats to the minority community in India, using the events in Bastar in June as a reference point. And in a state that has largely kept itself out of the intolerance debate, it was crucial for the state government to act fast.
For the first few days at least, the plan has seemingly worked well. While there was understandably much reportage locally over the first few days, the matter has since died down, only finding small mentions in back pages. Even the Home Ministry asking for a response has been seen largely as a result of the national discourse, rather than as a result of the seriousness of the attack itself. Yet, now a second wave of murmurs have begun. Even as the Christian Forum initially named the Bajrang Dal as the organisation behind the attacks, the police are yet to tie any of the arrested to an organisation. There is also evidence to suggest that the hall may have been built on encroached land, the police say, but with other homes in the village itself adjoining the spot, some have suggested that the police is now trying to wriggle away from acting against organisations behind the attack. Privately, officers admit that those who attacked the hall were instigated to do so, many of them minors, or still in their teens. How the state government deals with the investigations in this second phase is now crucial to how this story plays out.