By ICC’s India Correspondent
Two and a half years ago, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the Hindu nationalist BJP into power. Unfortunately, radical Hindu groups like the RSS, VHP, and Bajrangdal have used the BJP’s rise to power as a permission slip to harass Christians across the nation. Recently, radical Hindu groups have been using social boycotts to force Christians to “reconvert” to Hinduism.
16 Christian families living in Nachandih village in the Kondagaon district of India’s Chhattisgarh state are currently enduring such social boycotts. Hindu villagers refuse to allow them to participate in social events, graze their cattle, cultivate their farmland, or even live in their homes because they refuse to surrender their Christian faith. Since most of the Christians are farmers, these boycotts utterly destroyed their livelihood.
In 2012, 16 families from Nachandih village embraced Christ after God performed several healings and other miracles. Until March 2016, they were able to publicly practice Christianity, including meeting for regular worship and prayer services.
That changed on March 14, 2016 when Bajrangdal leaders manipulated the local village council to issue this ultimatum: “Christians should not be in this village, only Hindus have the freedom to live in the village, because India is [a] Hindu country. Those who have accepted the Christian faith must be reconverted back to Hinduism.” Despite this declaration, the Christian families refused to reconvert. The radicals then implemented social boycotts to try and change their minds.
The next day, the Christians went to the police station and filed a complaint against the Bajrangdal, but the police protected the Bajrangdal leaders instead of the Christians. This defeat was the first of many for Nachandih’s Christians.
Along with the social boycott, Bajrangdal leaders threatened the Christians to coerce them to convert to Hinduism. Pangu Markham, a 45-year-old Christian, described the dire situation to International Christian Concern (ICC), “There were about 300 people [on] one side and we, the small community of believers, were on the other side. The Hindu radicals threatened to kill us and take possession of our properties if we did not reconvert.”
Gradually, things got worse. One of the Christians who refused to reconvert, Prasad Markham, told ICC, “Hindu radicals destroyed my house and later kidnapped my one and a half-year-old daughter. They are not allowing me to rebuild my house.”
Over time, Christians like Pangu Markham acknowledged, “It is increasingly becoming hard for us to continue as Christians in the village. We are watched by the leaders of Bajrangdal. Because we are totally cut off from the village, we sometimes do not have enough food to eat. We are constantly harassed for no other reason than our Christian identity. This month we are not even allowed to bury our dead in the village.”
By May 2016, Hindu radicals grew tired of waiting for reconversions. They organized a mass reconversion ceremony at a Hindu temple and forced eight of the Christian families to attend. One of the family members, Themra Salam, described the ceremony, “Out of compulsion and fear, I participated in the re-conversion ceremony. It seemed I had no other choice as the Hindu radicals destroyed my house, stole my land and house deeds, and threatened to either kill me and my family or drive us out of the village.” Salam continued, “Inwardly, I follow Jesus and worship him. I want to come back and continue as a Christian openly.”
In addition to the threats and the ceremony, radicals forced each re-convert to pay a fine for previously accepting Christianity. Salam noted that he had to pay 20,000 rupees, approximately $300.00 USD, as the last person to renounce Christianity while the other seven families only paid 1,000 rupees.
Unfortunately, the story of suffering faced by Christians in Nachandih village is just one example of Christians facing social boycotts in India. Currently, Christians in over 50 villages in India’s Chhattisgarh state alone face similar siege-like tactics. Due to the fact that Hindu radicals have the freedom to conduct these social boycotts, there is no evidence to suggest that they will stop in the near future. This is a worrying trend and requires India’s elected representatives to take action to protect all citizens’ rights, regardless of their religious identity.
Source: International Christian Concern (www.persecution.org)