Christians in the Bastar region are once again being denied permission to bury their dead, according to reports from Narayanpur district in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh.
Christian Today spoke to Phulsingh Kachlam, a local Christian civil society leader and politician from Narayanpur, who confirmed that at least five incidents have taken place since November 10, where Christians have been prevented from burying their dead.
“The latest incident was from the day before yesterday, wherein police officials and the Tehsildar engaged in violence and forcibly took away the body of Sukhram, a local tribal Christian from the village Koliyari, after local Hindus and other villagers objected to his burial,” Kachlam said.
The mob protesting Sukhram’s burial was not allowing his family to bury him on their own land, Kachlam said. Not only this, but the mob was against burial anywhere in the village or around it unless the family recants their Christian faith.
It is normal for tribal communities to bury their dead, and tribals who have embraced Christianity have continued the practice of burial.
The body of Sukhram was taken by the authorities to Narayanpur town, where he was buried in the absence of his family members, according to a local Christian leader who wishes to remain unnamed.
“The family of Sukhram was pressured by the authorities and police to sign a declaration stating that they had given their consent for his body to be buried in Narayanpur town and not their own village. But they did not sign anything,” he spoke.
The disturbance at Sukhram’s funeral and the prior incidents forced Kachlam to give a memorandum to the District Collector of Narayanpur on November 20, stating that tribal and non-tribal families who believe in Christianity are not being allowed to bury their dead on their own land. The memorandum also lists the recent incidents and requests the District Collector to take cognizance of the mentioned incidents and provide relief to the victim as soon as possible. It also advocates for strict action against anti-social elements who disturb social harmony. Kachlam, who recently contested elections to the State Legislative Assembly as the candidate of the Community Party of India, issued the memorandum on the letterhead of the party.
The incidents listed in the memorandum are as follows (translated):
1. On 10/11/2023, the burial of the dead body of a person named Manak Salaam was prevented at Sulenga Dhaudai village.
2. On 11/11/2023, the body of Nakul was stopped from being buried for two days in village Chotedongar after which it was finally buried outside the village.
3. On 12/11/2023, the dead body of a woman named Ramshila from village Keralapal was prevented from being buried.
4. On 14/11/2023, the body of a woman named Massi Salaam/Sanju Salam from village-Garaji, was prevented from being buried.
5. On 20/11/2023, the dead body of Sukhram, Village-Koliyari is being stopped from being buried, and the situation remains controversial.
Kachlam says that the violence that erupted in the region last year around the same time was preceded by many such incidents where Christians were opposed and threatened when they wanted to bury their dead, and in many cases, the situation had even turned violent.
In December last year, over 2,000 Christians primarily from the districts of Narayanpur and Kondagaon were forced to flee their homes and properties and take shelter in Narayanpur and Kondagaon towns after incidents of violence were reported against Christians throughout the months of December 2022 and January 2023 from these districts. Kanker district, which is close by, also saw some violence against Christians, but it was not as severe as Narayanpur and Kondagaon. December 18, 2022, marked one of the darkest days for tribal Christians as they endured brutal beatings and forced eviction from their homes across 20 villages in both districts.
The violence was not sudden but a build-up from the month of September – October 2022, as per local Christian leaders from the districts. The flare-up took place in the month of December and had continued till January 2023.
“We had received reports of Christians in the districts of Narayanpur and Kondagaon who were being harassed by denying them permission to bury their dead throughout 2022, especially the latter half. We also heard instances of Christians being summoned to village council meetings in both districts where they were pressured to recant their faith. But nothing prepared us for the violence and pressure that was unleashed against Christians in the region in December,” said the Rev. Vijayesh Lal, General Secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India.
Lal recounts that EFI had written to the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, Mr. Bhupesh Baghel on December 19, and the appeal was hand-delivered to him while he was in Delhi, but little came out of it even though Mr. Baghel had promised action.
“As Christmas approaches, we are apprehensive about the repeat of the violence that took place last year. I hope the government takes proactive steps to check it,” says Kachlam.