ASIA/INDIA - Vandalism in a Catholic church in Chhattisgarh

Tuesday, 3 January 2023 religious freedom   violence   conversion  

Narayanpur (Agenzia Fides) - The Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh (central India) was vandalized by a tribal mob. The incident, which happened yesterday afternoon, January 2, in the village of Edka, located in the district of Narayanpur, caused several minor injuries, including a police officer. The violence erupted after a period of tension between tribal groups living in the area, mainly linked to the issue of alleged "religious conversions" among the population. On the night of January 1 to 2, there was a clash between two groups. Some adivasis (indigenous groups) accused other tribes of converting to Christianity "by force or inducement".
After the clashes, a group staged a public protest demonstration which suddenly turned violent, when the crowd went to the Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart and ransacked it, destroying the statue of Jesus Christ behind the main altar and other sacred furnishings. The mob also damaged the monument in the grotto dedicated to the Virgin Mary outside the church. A police officer, who tried to stop the demonstrators, suffered head injuries. After the incident, the police deployed massively in the area to prevent further violence. Many Christians in the city have taken refuge elsewhere for fear of further violence.
Father Jomon Devasia, a local priest, said around 1,000 students at the school attached to the parish witnessed the violence in fear. According to the priest, there have been tensions in the villages of the district between Christian and non-Christian tribes over the past two months.
"We are deeply saddened and distressed by the heinous vandalism perpetrated today against the Catholic Church and the presbytery of Narayanpur, in the diocese of Jagdalpur", said Msgr. Victor Henry Thakur, Archbishop of Raipur (whose Diocese of Jagdalpur is a suffragan, editor's note), meeting the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, Bhupesh Baghel, who ensured immediate action against the perpetrators. Sacred Heart Church was founded in 1973, and a high school run by the local church is attached to it.
According to the Center for Study of Society and Secularism, a non-denominational study center based in Mumbai, in which various Indian civil society organizations collaborate, "the tension in the region is due to the fact that a campaign is underway to reconvert the Christian Adivasis to the Hindu religion". For this reason, the Center notes, "in December, scuffles were recorded in 18 villages in Narayanpur district and 15 villages in Kondagaon district, also in Chhattisgarh, with the result that about a thousand Adivasis Christians were displaced from their villages". (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 3/1/2023)