By BosNewsLife Asia Service with reporting by Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
MUMBAI, INDIA (BosNewsLife)– Impoverished Christian villagers in India’s western state of Maharashtra were refused water and firewood Tuesday, January 8, after a Hindu attack on their house church injured some 30 believers, a chief investigator told BosNewsLife.
Joseph Dias, secretary-general of Indian rights group Catholic-Christian Secular Forum (CSF), said the incidents are part of an ongoing Hindu campaign to intimidate minority Christians in Maharashtra’s Thane Rural District.
Tensions have been rising since December 30 when up to 500 “Hindu extremists” surrounded a house church in Tamsai village where dozens of Christian tribals gathered for a Sunday worship and New Year prayer service, Dias said.
“Suddenly the mob surrounded the place and asked the Christian villagers to stop the prayer service. Then about a dozen of them began beating the believers, including many women and children,” he explained.
Casualties could have been higher but many Christians did not attend the gathering as they were threatened by “Hindutva fundamentalists”, the words used for hardline Hindu nationalists, according to CSF investigators.
Among those injured were 10 women, 5 children and 14 men, Christians said. “Most injuries were internal and [diagnostic] X-rays scans were advised, but the Christians are too poor to afford such medicare,” Dias stressed.
Additionally, he said, “musical instruments were broken and Bibles were torn or desecrated” in the December 30 turmoil.
Rights activists claim the area has been “simmering” over the last two years, with Christians being targeted and local police allegedly looking the other way. None of the 14 suspects identified in the latest violence have been detained, Christians complained.
“Rather the Christians were given a warning notice by police not to give any cause for trouble or action would be taken against them,” Dias claimed.
In front of police “Hindutva fundamentalists openly threatened to attack the Christians and kill any pastor that came to lead the worship,”he said. No Sunday service took place in the house church following the December 30 attack.
Instead, Christian tribals reportedly gathered January 6 at the ‘Voice of Holy Spirit House Church’ in Vikramgad village, some 20 kilometers (12 miles) away from their homes.
There was no immediate reaction from police, however influential Hindu groups are known to wield power over authorities in rural communities.
Dias said Christians were advised to accept police protection during church services, but he cautioned they were unable to pay the 2,000 Indian rupees ($36) per officer.
Additionally, Christians are reportedly fearful of the police with the CSF “receiving complaints from believers of neighboring villages.”
Dias said the latest refusal by non-Christians to provide water and firewood to believers in the area have added to concerns. “How can they survive?” he wondered.
Influential Hindus “also threatened to deny the Christians ration and government benefits, if they continued to pray in the village,” Dias explained.
He said the authority in charges of the Tamsai and Pochade villages already organized a meeting “to impose economic sanctions, social boycott and restrictions on practicing of Christianity in the area.”
CSF urged Christians to both “pray and act to protect the Christians from a bloodbath” in Tamsai and neighboring villages.
The tensions underscore mounting tensions in India, a heavily Hindu nation of over 1 billion people. Hindu groups have condemned the spread of Christianity among especially tribals and “Dalits”, who are also known as “untouchables” as they are deemed the “lowest caste” in India’s ancient system of Hinduism.
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