Villagers in Chhattisgarh forced to worship idols

Five families in Nawagarh village, Janjgir District, in India’s Chhattisgarh state, were harassed, beaten and forced to worship Hindu idols by a group of right-wing Hindu fundamentalists between 2 to 3 March. The families, who also attended local church services, were later expelled from their village.

In a complaint filed at the Nawagarh Police Station, one of the victims, Chandra Kumar Sahu (28), says: “They have falsely accused my family of converting to Christianity. We are Hindus and we have not converted to Christianity. However, my family and I do not consider idols as gods and we do not want to worship idols. But we were forced to. We as a family often visit churches and we respect Jesus Christ. But the attackers told us that if we want to continue staying in the village, we should stop going to the church. It is our fundamental right to pray to whomever we want.”

CSW sources report that the Hindu fundamentalists were outsiders who arrived in Nawagarh village at approximately 9pm on 2 March. They assembled local gangsters and gave them free liquor, before encouraging them to harass the five families.

At approximately midnight on 2 March, the gangsters entered the families’ homes, told them that an emergency public meeting was being held in the village and forced them to attend. Once there, the families were beaten up, the women were verbally abused and the mob threatened to kill them. The mob forced the families to worship idols and accused them of converting to Christianity.

The families were then told that they would have to leave the village if they didn’t worship the idols, but they refused and have taken refuge in nearby villages.  

Despite the victims filing a complaint letter with the police, a formal First Information Report (FIR), which is required for the police to open up an investigation, is yet to be registered. 

According to the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum (CGCF), which was informed about the incident, the mob that came to Nawagarh village has since left; however, local news channels and news portals have stoked tensions by claiming that the Hindu religion is in danger due to conversion by Christians. The CGCF has lodged complaints with the State Human Rights Commission and the State Minorities Commission.

Two months prior to their expulsion from the village, the five Hindu families were denied water, grains and labourers for their fields, and other villagers were ordered to stop talking to them.  

CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: “The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is party, protects the right of Mr Sahu and his fellow villagers not only to worship wherever they choose, but also to express their faith in any manner they may choose without experiencing coercion. CSW calls for a thorough investigation into this incident, and urges local police to ensure that the perpetrators are prosecuted, including those who came into the village from elsewhere to promote violence. Rising religious intolerance in India is of grave concern, and we urge states to raise this issue with the Indian government in bilateral and multilateral dialogues.”