When a Hindu extremist mob attacked a group of Christians gathered for prayer one young woman was so badly hurt that she lost the baby she was carrying. Through its local partner, Christian Solidarity International (CSI) has provided medical and legal help to the victims.
The brutal attack happened on the last day of 2020 as 12 Christians – most of them women – met for prayer in a house in a little village in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. As they were praying, a group of 50 Hindus burst in and started harassing and abusing the worshippers, ripping the clothes from the women’s bodies.
One woman, Meerabehn, was singled out for particularly harsh treatment. The pregnant woman was pushed to the ground and kicked in the head so hard that she lost consciousness. Sadly, she also lost her child: on the way to hospital her baby was delivered stillborn.
The victims of the assault reported it to the police and demanded the arrest of the perpetrators. But instead of bringing charges, the law enforcement officers denied that there had been any violence. Emboldened by this, some of the mob turned the tables on their victims, accusing them of attempting religious conversion by force.
Support from CSI partners
As soon as they heard of the attack, CSI’s local partners ensured that the victims received medical care. They also supported them in filing a lawsuit against the perpetrators.
“After several hearings, the court recently ordered criminal proceedings against the accused. Likewise, action is being taken against the police officers who refused to file the complaint”, explains Indian lawyer and CSI partner Chaya Kumar (name changed). She adds, “Eight perpetrators have been charged. We are waiting for the court order to be implemented. However, no one has been arrested yet”.
Meerabehn is gradually recovering from her terrible ordeal and remains firm in her faith. “Fortunately, there is no need to fear any permanent damage to her health”, says Kumar.
Law encourages extremists
Since an anti-conversion law came into force, there has been a massive increase in the number of religiously motivated attacks on Christians in Madhya Pradesh. Compared to the 19 recorded incidents of anti-Christian violence in 2020, Madhya Pradesh had already seen 15 attacks on Christians in the first six months of 2021, according to Kumar.
The anti-conversion law requires that any change of religion be officially reported. However, the authorities often deny permission to convert from Hinduism to another religion.
Often the law is misused to justify attacks on minorities. A Christian leader in Madhya Pradesh reports: “When Christians pray together or even celebrate a birthday, religious extremists can accuse them of trying to bring about conversion through violence, fraud or seduction”.
“No one should be attacked for their faith. The Indian Constitution protects freedom of religion for all people”, stresses Kumar. Lawyers for CSI’s partners have filed a petition in the Madhya Pradesh High Court challenging the compatibility of the anti-conversion law with the Constitution.