A group of more than 15 men allegedly vandalised a prayer hall that served as a church and manhandled the congregants inside at Kachna village on the outskirts of Raipur Sunday. The incident happened at the time a prayer meeting was in progress.
Locals, who did not want to be identified, said the men came on motorcycles and shouted slogans like “Jai Shri Ram”, while alleging religious conversions.
Chief Minister Raman Singh condemned the attack. “Police are investigating the case with all seriousness. Nobody guilty will be spared, and strict action will be taken,” he said in a statement.
Police, however, told The Indian Express that the matter stemmed from an issue over the hall being allegedly built on encroached land. While claiming that the same dispute escalated Sunday, they added that a case was registered and three people detained. Senior officials said the incident took place around 11 am.
“There are different versions on the number of people that came. But there was an argument when they entered. They broke some chairs and fans, and in the melee six people got minor injuries, two of them women. There were around 40 people inside when the group came. The police, however, arrived quickly, and the group fled…We have recovered three motorcycles, which we are using to track the accused,” said Neeraj Chandrakar, ASP (City).
A case against unknown persons under sections 147 (rioting), 452 (house trespass after preparation for hurt), 295(defiling a place of worship) and 323 (voluntarily causing hurt) was registered.
When The Indian Express visited the spot Sunday afternoon, the prayer hall was found locked. Locals refused to speak on record out of fear of implicating themselves. A resident of a village on the outskirts, however, said “many people came on bikes and shouted slogans” and “there was pandemonium until the police arrived”. Residents said every Sunday, Christians, “many from outside”, came to pray at the hall.
Police, however, stuck to their version of a dispute over land encroachment escalating into “trespass and manhandling”.
“The major cause for the disagreement is the encroachment of land, which has been a matter of fierce debate in the village for the past two years. The local Sahu Samaj has been protesting against the land being encroached upon and this prayer hall being built. Even last week, there was a disagreement about the hall. However, the police acted swiftly and three people were detained,” said G P Singh, IGP.
But Arjun Pannalal of the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum said police were trying to downplay the case. “When the group arrived on bikes, they were shouting slogans like ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and against conversion. They attacked people, including women, and broke fans, chairs and musical equipment. They fled when the police came. Yet, there was one praiseworthy thing about the police. When the DSP came, he asked everyone to continue their prayer first, saying that was most important,” he said.