The Ho people are an ethnic group of India. They are an Adivasi people group concentrated in the state of Jharkhand and Odisha, where they constitute around 10.5% of the Scheduled tribes. Most of their population inhabit forests areas of Jharkhand and Bihar.

In one such ‘Ho’ village in Jharkhand, around 35 Christian families reside. Over a 100 Christians including children, would regularly gather to pray and worship together before the nationwide lockdown was imposed. A handful of religious fanatics who live in this village often falsely accused the Christians of forcefully converting people. They also managed to instigate the village council against them.

On the 4th of May, the village council summoned the Christians for a meeting. On the 10th of May at 7am in the morning, around 25 Christians promptly reached the meeting place. They waited for a long time but none of the men showed up. After almost 2 hours of waiting, the Christians left, but around 10am, the religious fanatics began to gather in a state of complete drunkenness, prepared to have a fight with the Christians.

Soon after getting into a heated discussion, the group, who was heavily under the influence of alcohol, marched angrily to the construction site of the Church building and began vandalizing the place. They demolished the pillars and broke the foundation. Earlier on, one of the Christians had donated this piece of land to construct a building for the Church. Before the nationwide lockdown, the construction of the Church building had started and the foundation with the pillars was laid. The construction work was postponed until the lockdown was eased.

The drunk and angry group of men then headed towards where the Christians live. They forcefully entered their homes during the afternoon hours and mercilessly beat the Christians. 3 women were among the Christians who were attacked. The fanatics shamelessly, even tore the clothes of a woman who they assaulted, showing no remorse for their behavior. They threatened the Christians to participate in ‘Ghar Wapsi’ (ceremony which involves embracing one’s prior religion) warning them about leaving the village if they disagree. The religious fanatics basically wanted every one in the village to follow the same religion of old.

The police were soon informed about the attack and rushed to the village. After bringing the situation under control, the police who appeared to be biased towards the local religious fanatics told the Christians to stop all Christian activities. They even encouraged the villagers saying, “if you see any Christian who does not belong to this village, tie him up and call us!” The Police then asked both parties to come the next day to the Police Station so that they could come to a compromise.

On the 11th of May, the Christians reached the Police Station, but once again, the religious fanatics did not show up. When the Christians tried to communicate with the Police, they behaved rudely with them. The Police then began asking questions like, ‘why did you forsake your earlier religion? Aren’t you forcefully converting people?’ One of the women who was beaten up-a widow, then approached a police officer. She calmly explained and reasoned out the whole ordeal with him. The police official then asked them to write an application regarding the attack and assured them that he would look into the matter.

Over the lockdown period, we have noticed a certain trend among all the cases that have been reported. Most villages have a few religious fanatics who poison the minds of the villagers and instigate them against the Christians. Isolated Christians living in villages across the country are being targeted by religious fanatics who are usually affiliated with larger religious extremist organizations. These fanatics harass and force the Christians to go through with ‘Ghar Wapsi’ accusing them of corrupting the rest of the village and wrongly influencing them. Most Christians refuse to turn away from their faith and are boycotted from basic amenities and village activities. In extreme cases, some are even excommunicated, disowned and cut off from all inheritance and possessions, rendering them homeless. In many instances, the local administration and police officials support the religious fanatics and are biased toward them instead of standing with the minority groups. The local governments must pay attention to these attacks and make every effort to ensure religious freedom across the country.

Shibu Thomas is the Founder of Persecution Relief
Email: founder@persecutionrelief.org
www.persecutionrelief.org


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