Temple construction in tribal villages seen as a move to claim indigenous people are Hindus
A cross was demolished and a makeshift temple set up some 200 meters away in a village in India’s Chhattisgarh state, Christian leaders said.
The concrete cross on a hillock in Madanpur village in Korba district was popular among Christians living in the village and its nearby areas for more than two decades.
They gathered around for prayers, especially to do the Way of the Cross during Lenten season, said Arun Pannalal, president of Chhattisgarh Christian Forum that works among persecuted Christians in the state.
“We saw the cross destroyed and the temple near it. But we do not know exactly when it happened,” Pannalal told UCA News on Oct. 30.
He said some villagers informed them on Oct. 29 and they plan to complain to police. “We will also seek the intervention of the state’s chief minister through district officials,” he said.
He said the land on which the cross stood was “not officially owned by the Church but the Christian villagers have used it for many years and the local villagers never objected to its use,” Pannalal said.
“The sudden destruction of the cross is to target the Christians,” he said.
Right-wing Hindu groups have intensified campaigns to convert local tribal people to the Hindu religion, he said. Part of the program is to intimidate Christians, mostly tribal people, in the region, Pannalal said.
“These new temples seek to establish that tribal people were Hindus and force them to convert to Hinduism. They also accuse Christians of forcefully converting tribal people,” he alleged.
Chhattisgarh is categorized as the second most hostile state for Christians in India by Persecution Relief, an ecumenical forum that records Christian persecution and supports victims.
Its quarterly report said the state witnessed 16 incidents of attacks against Christians based on false allegations of religious conversion, among other charges.
Last month some people destroyed 16 houses of Christians in the presence of police and other government officials in Kondegaon district. The attack came after the villagers turned down a demand to give up their Christian faith.
The forum recorded 157 cases of persecution, including four murders, against Christians in the third quarter of this year.
Christians suffered physical attacks targeting even women, false complaints, social boycotts, attacks on churches, illegal arrests and detention, among other incidents of violence.
Persecution Relief said 10 Christians had been killed this year in India up until the end of September.