A fierce anti-Christian movement targeting India’s indigenous tribal Christian people is going on in Central India, especially in Madhya Pradesh, after the BJP-led state government implemented the Madhya Pradesh Religious Freedom Act recently.
According to sources, right-wing Hindu groups have stepped up their anti-Christian campaign in the state, urging villagers to disassociate themselves from Christian faith. They were also asking the Christians to switch to Hinduism, to avoid hostility.
However, the indigenous Christians have vowed not to give up their faith under any circumstances. They said that they were prepared to face challenges to safeguard their faith.
A Hindu right-wing leader Kamalesh Malviya, speaking at a meeting of the village council at Amba in tribal-dominated Jhabua district on January 26, said that Christian practices were against tribal traditions.
“There is no space for religious conversion and healing prayers among the indigenous people. And, those who have converted to Christianity should be opposed,” he told a small crowd of villages at the meeting.
The Hindu groups are making vigorous anti-Christian campaign across Jhabua district for Christians to return to Hinduism, which they claim is the parental religion of all Indians.
Attempt to divide tribal community
Jeevan Ganawa, a local Christian leader, says that the anti-Christian campaign and threats are “part of their attempt to create division and discord among the peacefully living tribal community.”
“We have been practicing our faith amid threats and persecution,” he said.
However, “we are not going to give up our religion as per the whims and fancies of the right-wing Hindu groups,” Ganawa said and questioned Malviya’s call to tribal people to join “their parental religion.”
He said “Tribal people were never Hindus. We have nothing to do with Hinduism. Hindu groups have infiltrated to tribal people and branded them as followers of the Hindu religion,” he added.
Tribal people are nature worshippers, animists and followers of their own religions and practices.
Anand Khadiya, another tribal Christian leader said most tribal people were counted as Hindus in India’s national census. Hindu leaders now want to divide the tribal community into Christian and non-Christian for political gains.
Demands to shut down all churches
On January 11, a mob of Hindus marched in Jhabua city demanding to shut down all the churches in tribal areas. They also handed over a memorandum to the district collector to shut down churches within 30 days or face violent agitation “to free the tribal lands” from Christians.
Meanwhile, the Christian leaders suspect the anti-Christian campaign has the tacit support of the government.
However, the demand to shut down churches is baffling, one church leader said. “If churches cannot be allowed on tribal land, how can there be temples?” he asked refusing to be named.
“The Hindu group have built temples and installed their deities in tribal villages. These are also against tribal traditions and beliefs. They should also be removed, and Christians alone should not be targeted,” said another Christian leader.
Four percent Christians in Jhabua
Madhya Pradesh’s Jhabua has a high percentage of Christians, who form some 4 percent of the district’s 1 million people. Hindus comprise 93 percent and Muslims are about 2 percent.
In the rest of Madhya Pradesh, Christians account for less than 1 percent of the population, while the national average is only 2.3 percent.
The numerical growth of Christians, mostly among tribal people, challenges the radicals’ idea of Hindu hegemony, said Ganawa, a second-generation tribal Christian leader.
Educational, health facilities
UCA News quotes Father Rockey Shah, public relations officer of Jhabua Catholic Diocese, said the Hindu campaign also targets Christians’ educational and healthcare facilities, which have contributed immensely to indigenous people’s welfare.
“Now the Hindu groups say these services are facades for religious conversion,” Fr Shah said on January 28.
Father Shah said church leaders are keeping a watch on the open threats. Hindu right-wing groups target Christians and Muslims, terming them as foreign religions. However, they do not have hostility towards the Sikh, Jain and Buddhist religions developed in India.