In Chhattisgarh, Hindu extremists attack Christian prayer meeting, police arrest Christians
by Nirmala Carvalho

Christians who met in a private home are arrested for “disturbing the public peace”. For Archbishop Thakur of Raipur, extremists are “sparking tensions” while police are “are duty-bound to protect the people”. Meanwhile, in Tamil Nadu, the state government comes out against Hindu anti-conversion rage, noting that “the Constitution of India guarantees every citizen the right to propagate their religion”.

Raipur (AsiaNews) – Members of the Bajrang Dal, a Hindu extremist nationalist movement, attacked a group of Christians who had gathered on Sunday to pray at a private home in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh.

An armed mob, shouting Hindu chants, picketed the home of Dr Vinay Sahu, a local dentist, where some 50 Christians were meeting. Once the incident began, the Christians locked themselves inside the house and phoned the nearest police station, about 500 metres away.

When police arrived an hour later, instead of taking action against the attackers, they took into custody the dentist and a dozen other Christians, charging them with disturbing the peace.

“Even the police accused us of converting people to Christianity," said Arun Pannalal, president of the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum. “They asked why a prayer was held in a private home and threatened to send them (participants) to jail. Only after our pressure did they release those held in the evening."

"Since 2019 we have been holding moments of prayer in our home. In 2021, the Bajrang Dal organised a similar protest and we were threatened with violence if we did not stop prayers,” Dr  Sahu said.

"But it's our home and we've never forced anyone to attend the service. All participants were Christians. We don't even use microphones and we don't cause noise. We cannot understand the reason for these attacks."

Archbishop Victor Henry Thakur of Raipur, who also chairs the Council of Catholic Bishops of Chhattisgarh (CBCG), spoke to AsiaNews about the incident.

"With State Assembly elections scheduled for later this year, they (Hindu extremists) are preparing the ground by sparking tensions and sowing suspicion in society,” he explained.

“Fabricated and baseless conversion allegations are made by right-wing extremists against Christians and the administration apprehends and detains innocent Christians whilst those who create the law and order situation go scot-free. The administration should act; they are duty-bound to protect the people.”

Meanwhile, in another Indian state, Tamil Nadu, the local government has told the Supreme Court that every citizen should have the opportunity to peacefully practise and promote their religion.

This came in response to a request by Ashwini Upadhyay, the local leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party, for an investigation into alleged cases of conversion.

"Article 25 of the Constitution of India guarantees every citizen the right to propagate their religion," reads the affidavit by the Tamil Nadu government, which is led by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

The affidavit goes on to say that anti-conversion laws are prone to being misused against minorities; instead, “The citizens of the country should be allowed to freely choose their religion and it would not be appropriate for the government to put spokes to their personal belief and privacy.”

With respect to anti-conversion laws, the statement notes that in 2002, the state had also passed the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Forcible Conversion of Religion Act but repealed it in 2006 “due to popular opposition”.