Villagers influenced by fanatics have ganged up against a local Church opposing the construction of a Church building at a village in the Indian state of Odisha. They are threatening to demolish the Church building, claiming that it has angered the gods of their village.
“The Sarpanch and the villagers were completely aware of the construction work ever since it started. No one objected for all these months. Why now, when the work is almost complete?” said *Gopinath, who has been serving with the Church in the ‘HO’ or ‘Munda’ tribal village for more than 5 years.
Narrating the incident to Persecution Relief, Gopinath explained that from the 35 families that comprise the tribal village, 8 families have been faithful Christians for more than 10 years. “These families regularly gather for prayer and worship at fellow believer, *Pichu Ram’s home” he said.
“Pichu Ram had some vacant land besides his house which he generously gave to the Church to use. It is ancestral land which has been in his family for around 150 years. The Church decided to build a small place wherein they could gather together for prayer” said Gopinath.
“On the 16th of August 2020, a group of angry villagers came to us and told us that they would not allow us to complete the construction of the Church building as the gods of the village will abandon them if they allow the Church building to stand” added Gopinath.
Speaking to Persecution Relief, Gopinath said that the fanatics have led the innocent villagers to believe that their gods have been angered and will inflict the village with sickness, hence the villagers are all scared and agreeing with their demands.
“Listening to the fanatics, we were astonished, as a sizable amount of money which was painstakingly accumulated and a lot of hard work had gone into the construction of the Church building” said Gopinath.
The Christians then approached the Sarpanch regarding the matter. However, he refused to have a say in the matter and told them that there was nothing he could do to help them. “We then decided to approach the police to try and resolve the issue” said Gopinath who also added that the gang of fanatics followed them to the police station.
“The police informed us that they would assist us only if we produced land documents. When in reality, no one from that village had documents for the properties that they lived on as the tribals mostly lived on forest lands which have been occupied by them for centuries said Gopinath.
The police then directed the Christians to approach the Tehsildar and apply for a land ownership document. “We will help you once you acquire that, the police told us, besides that, they refused to even talk to the fanatics about not demolishing the Church structure” said Gopinath.
Talking to Persecution Relief about how helpless the Christians feel, Gopinath said, “We have even told the villagers that we will use the newly constructed building as a house and not a Church so that they wouldn’t demolish it as a lot of hard work, sacrifice and pain has gone into this plan”
The Christians claim this attack to be unusual and sudden. They are fearful that the fanatics could destroy the construction at any time and even hinder the Christians in the village from freely practicing their faith.
Odisha has the largest number of tribes among all Indian states, as many as 62 distinct groups. The ‘HO’ people are one of the larger tribes that live in the foot hills in forest areas.
Shibu Thomas is founder of Persecution Relief