It has been a week since crowds reportedly vandalised 11 houses belonging to minority community families in three villages of Chhattisgarh’s Bastar division. Complaints have been submitted by Christian tribal families against tribal villagers over the incidents of September 22-23, but no FIR has been filed yet.
More than 20 of the 40 members of 13 Christian tribal families in the villages of Kakrabeda, Singanpur and Tiliyabeda have since left their homes.
The district administration described the situation as “peaceful”, even as additional police forces have been deployed for about a week in five villages, around 20 km from the Kondagaon district collectorate.
District Collector Pushpendra Meena said the situation is peaceful, and the families who left would return as per their convenience. “Both parties have agreed to keep peace. But as a precaution, we have deployed policemen,” Meena told The Indian Express.
The police presence in Kakrabeda village was indicated by a police bus parked behind a closed anganwadi, a circle fenced loosely with barbed wire around poles, and a camouflage uniform laid out to dry.
When contacted, Bastar IGP Sundarraj P said, “The situation is very sensitive and we have to tread carefully. Legal action will be taken, but the priority is to avoid any untoward incident. Police deployment will continue.”
Most villages in Bastar have some Christian families. While there has been friction and clashes in the past, this is the first time houses have been vandalised and families have left the villages.
Shivram Poyam (27), a resident of Kakrabeda, was the first to alert the police on September 22 afternoon, hours before the incident. “I knew something was afoot when villagers started gathering. I went to the police station and asked them to come to the village,” he said. The nearest police station is 18 km from the village.
Seven houses in Kakrabeda were damaged, including Poyam’s. “A crowd of 500 people trampled upon vegetable crops,” he said.
Poyam said his mother and wife were in the house when the crowd barged in and broke utensils. “A man threw my wife out of the house.” His family ran away into the forests, he added.
“The villagers believe that by following Christianity, we have defiled their rituals and customs. We are untouchables. They want us to quit Christianity or the village,” Poyam said.
He said that despite appealing to police, no FIR was registered. “I was told it would be too dangerous for me. It is already too dangerous. I can’t go back to my village.”
Of 11 families belonging to the community in Kakrabeda, 20 members have left the village.
Bhaktin (49), another resident, said the problem with followers of “Ishu Dharm” (Faith of Jesus) was that they didn’t participate in village rituals. According to her, on the night of the incident, an argument broke out, after which some Christian families locked themselves in, leading to police deployment.
Vijay Sori (32), a resident of Singanpur, a gram panchayat 6 km from Kakrabeda, disagreed. “After I started following Christianity, I tried to invite the village elders for my wedding. Not a single person came. They say we don’t come for rituals, when in reality, if we do go, we are charged hefty fines for ‘polluting’ the event,” he said.
“Had we been of any other faith, maybe the officers would have taken us seriously,” Sori alleged. “I can’t go back to my village, but I hope my children can grow up without fear.”
Singanpur registered a similar incident on September 23. Five houses were damaged in two villages under the gram panchayat allegedly by the same crowd, even as police tried to control the situation. Sori left his house in Singanpur just as his house was attacked.
“We called the police station, but nobody responded. We finally went to the SP, who came to the village,” Sori said. Policemen reportedly tried to control the crowd for over an hour. Videos of the incident showed people vandalising houses while police officers asked them to leave.
Pointing to a house, which belongs to Phoolsingh Poyam (32), who identifies as a Christian, villagers said affected families were locked up inside it. “My family is still inside. I don’t know if there’s anything to eat. They keep calling us to save them,” Phoolsingh Poyam said.
The villagers said they submitted multiple letters to the police station and collector. “The collector promised he would make good our damage within 10 days. He has been pleading with the people who attacked us to understand while asking us to compromise. Why? Because we are just 11 against 500 of them?” asked Ayaturam (58), another Singanpur resident.
Surajwati Netam, sarpanch of Chipawand village under which Kakrabeda falls, said she was unaware of the incident, which happened 3 km from her house. “I know police were called, I really don’t know what happened,” she said.
According to members of Sarva Adivasi Samaj, a tribal body comprising smaller groups like Gondwana Samaj, etc, the issue is politically motivated. A member of Sarva Adivasi Samaj from Bastar said, “The presence of extreme fringe groups is possible only by making enemies out of neighbours. Several people are willing to comment on religion, why don’t they comment on other tribal welfare issues?”
“There is an attempt to polarise the adivasi community for political gains,” said Vinod Nagvanshi, another member of Sarva Adivasi Samaj.
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