In Chhattisgarh’s Narayanpur district, a mob of roughly 50 people broke into the Sacred Heart Church at Banglapara on January 2 and vandalised it before attacking police officials who arrived at the scene. At least seven police officers were hurt in the incident, including Superintendent of Police Sadanand Kumar. 11 people, including a BJP leader, have so far been detained, and the police have filed four separate FIRs under IPC sections for criminal conspiracy, attack on public employees, rioting, and inciting hatred among communities, among other things.
However, animosity has been building between the district’s two tribal groups for some time: the non-Christian tribals and the minority tribal population that practises Christianity. According to sources within the Narayanpur Police, seven of the at least 10 FIRs that have been filed against the two groups for allegedly attacking Christians are against members of the majority tribal tribes.
According to the locals, the first significant instance of hostility between the two groups in Narayanpur happened in November of last year at Bhatpal, a village 14 kilometres from the district seat, purportedly over Christians utilising the village graveyard.
According to a police source, there are huge cultural differences between the two groups, with the majority of the tribal population being upset that the Christian tribals were abandoning tribal customs.
According to police sources, tensions erupted on January 1 in Gorra village, resulting in the first big conflict, during which a group of Christian tribals allegedly attacked members of the dominant tribes.
The majority groups in Gorra village convened panchayat meetings where they urged the tribal Christians to abandon their religion and reintegrate into the community. The Christian organisations became quite frustrated as a result. On January 1, several Christian tribals from various villages banded together and attacked tribal members of Gorra village’s dominant community. The police were called, but they too were treated badly, according to a prominent Christian who spoke on the record.
Three people were arrested after two FIRs, including one for assault on police officials, were filed at the Edka police station in relation to the Gorra incident.
According to a top government official, these two are among the first set of FIRs filed against the Christian community.
According to a BJP member from Narayanpur, “In Gorra village, Christian-practicing tribal people attacked majority tribals. The event on Monday was a response to that.
The BJP district president for Narayanpur, Rupsai Salam, and others organised a gathering in Narayanpur city the following day, January 2, ostensibly to unify all non-Christian tribal groups against the fighting in Gorra.
Salam and the other organisers allegedly promised district collector Ajeet Vasant and SP Sadanand Kumar that the gathering would proceed quietly. However, among the 2,000 tribals from various villages assembled in Narayanpur, over a hundred ran and tore open the gates of the Viswadeepti School, located about a kilometre away in the same courtyard as the Sacred Heart Church.
The chapel and a statue in the schoolyard were vandalised by about 50 of them, including some women. Additionally, they damaged the staff housing. SP Kumar was also attacked as he arrived at the scene with reinforcements. The cop was struck with an iron rod and required five stitches to his skull.
“Even after being attacked, I instructed my soldiers to approach the situation with calm. I kept calming down the mob even after I was struck,” Kumar said to The Indian Express on Thursday.
The conference convened by BJP’s Salam saw a sizable participation from the Sarva Adivasi Samaj, a registered organisation of tribals that includes all sub-sections of the community in Chhattisgarh. Salam is one of the 11 people who have been detained thus far following the violence; he is also a member of the Pargana Adivasi Samaj, a local organisation of tribal people from Benur and Edka in the area. Pawan Kumar, Atul Netam, Ankit Nandi, Domendra Yadav, Nirajan Karanga, Ramesh Potai, Sukman Netam, Laharu Ram Netam, Mangau Ram Kavde, and Raju Ram Dugga were the others that the police recognised.
The district head of the Sarva Adivasi Samaj, Hirashing Dehari, distanced himself from the violence and stated, “We want to make this clear… The violence on Monday has nothing to do with either the Sarva Adivasi Samaj or the Gondvana Samaj, two of the largest tribal organisations in the district. Those who misuse our names must be held accountable. The violence that occurred on Monday is abhorrent to us. It’s true that there are conflicts within our tribal community regarding the conversion of tribal people to Christianity and church attendance, but these conflicts were depicted incorrectly by sending tribal people from neighbouring villages to commit violence in Narayanpur. They are attempting to undermine Narayanpur’s serene atmosphere. You are familiar with them. We shall hold a meeting of our Samaj on January 10 to discuss conversions and indigenous people visiting churches to pray. They will be convinced to revert to tribal customs by us. We denounce the Gorra violence and demand that the government impose strong punishment on everyone who engages in violence. It’s awful that the tribe brothers are arguing and provoking one another.
P Sundarraj, the Bastar Range’s Inspector General, arrived at Narayanpur following the event. The church and other critical locations have seen an increase in security.