Violence Against Christians amidst nationwide lock-down: April 2020
On 17th of April, 2020, villagers in Mendoli in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh called a Gram Panchayat meeting attended by 200 villagers where a Christian family was also summoned. Once there, the religious heads demanded that they must renounce their faith in Christ. On refusing to do so, a mob of villagers severely assaulted them, outraged the modesty of the victim’s wife by tearing off her clothes and forcefully performed a sanctification ritual on the family. Thereafter, the assailants shamelessly extorted Rs. 5,000/- for the sanctification ritual. The mob then threatened to kill the family if they dared to inform the police about the incident.
Six incidents of violence, including the incident seen above were reported in the month of April, from the State of Chhattisgarh. Jharkhand also recorded three incidents of violence last month amidst a nation-wide lock-down, totalling to 9 incidents.
Physical assault was the most common form of violence seen in the month of April 2020 in Dantewada and Sukma districts of Chhattisgarh and Gumla and Khunti Districts in Jharkhand. In eight out of nine incidents, namely 5 in Chhattisgarh and 3 in Jharkhand, Christians were physically assaulted for practising, professing and propagating a religion of their choice, a fundamental right guaranteed to all persons in India, under Article 25 of the Constitution of India.
In Chhattisgarh, all five incidents witnessed a mob of people ranging from 50 people, in one of the incidents to 200 people, gathered for a village meeting meant to forcefully convert the Christian family in question, to another religion. On refusing to accede to their demand, the mob would severely assault the Christians who were fraudulently brought to the meeting in the first place, on the pretext of a compromise.
Interestingly, not only do these offenders commit offences punishable under the Indian Penal Code under sections 295A (Maliciously insulting the religion or religious beliefs of any class), 298 (Wounding the religious feelings of persons by words, signs or gestures), 325 (Voluntarily causing grievous hurt), 354 (Outraging the modesty of a woman), 386 (Extortion by putting a person in fear of death or grievous hurt) and 506 (Criminal Intimidation), but they also pose a threat to the community at large by violating the lock-down/social distancing guidelines in place to curb the spread of COVID-19.
If in Chhattisgarh, it is the religious heads that can’t tolerate Christians, in Jharkhand, it is either family members following a different religion or religious extremists in the village that pose a threat to the peaceful co-existence of these Christians.
One of the incidents reported from Jharkhand involved voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means, punishable under s. 326 of the Indian Penal Code. The offence mentioned above is a cognisable and non-bailable offence punishable with imprisonment for life and fine. The case in point took place on 16th of April, 2020 at 8:00 p.m. when a group of people armed with guns, shot a young Christian girl who was at her home in Khunti, Jharkhand. They threatened to kill her if she continued to spread the Gospel among the villagers. The victim’s father was similarly shot dead by a group of religious extremists in the year 2015 for being involved in missionary work. As seen above, the incidents in Jharkhand involved criminal intimidation and grievous hurt.
It is also observed that all incidents reported this month saw violence against women, particularly, three incidents wherein women were the primary target. This trend suggests that women are increasingly vulnerable to violence during the lock-down, not only in the society as seen above, but also at homes, as suggested by news reports.
To make things worse, although all nine incidents this month were reported at the local police station through written complaints or online complaints, FIR was registered in only two incidents. Pertinently, eight out of nine incidents involved the commission of at least one cognisable offence and a police officer is duty-bound to register an FIR under s. 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure when the commission of a cognisable offence is brought to his notice.