Ten Christian families in the east Indian state of Odisha have been living in a forest for weeks after their houses were destroyed by villagers in retaliation for filing a police complaint against a group of Hindu men who allegedly sexually harassed two Christian women as they drew water from a public well.
The families have been living in fear and without light, water or a change of clothes in a forest near the Sikapai village in Rayagada district’s Kalyansingpur block since mid-May, according to the United Kingdom-based nonprofit Christian Solidarity Worldwide.
Tensions began on May 15 when two women went to a nearby tube well to fetch water to prepare food, CSW reported. A few Hindu villagers reportedly approached the women, tore their clothes, touched them inappropriately and told them that Christians could not use that well.
The villagers also damaged the tube at the well so that the women wouldn’t be able to access the water.
The women’s families filed a police complaint but no investigation followed. The Christians also reported the incident to administrative officials, who allegedly told them to reconvert to Hinduism.
On May 25, when the attackers learned about the complaints, they destroyed the roofs of six houses belonging to Christians and also beat some of them.
The following morning, a severe cyclonic storm caused flooding in the area, which destroyed the damaged houses. The families were forced to find shelter using polythene sheets and wood in the forest outside the village.
CSW’s founder and President Mervyn Thomas said his group “is deeply concerned by the rise in crimes against minorities in India and the inadequate response from the authorities.”
Last June, a 14-year-old Christian boy was lynched in Kenduguda village in Odisha’s Malkangiri district, according toreports. The boy was allegedly crushed to death with a stone by a group of people. His body was reportedly chopped into pieces. His remains were buried in several different places.
The boy and his family converted to Christianity three years earlier and had been attacked due to their conversion.
A recent report from Human Rights Watch warned that "prejudices embedded in the government" of the BJP led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi have “infiltrated independent institutions,” such as the police and the courts, “empowering nationalist groups to threaten, harass and attack religious minorities with impunity.”
Last year, India denied entry visas to representatives of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom who had planned to investigate reports of persecution against Muslims and Christians following the release of its report recommending the U.S. State Department designate India as a “Country of Particular Concern.”
In a statement to CP, the Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America said at the time it was “deeply disappointed” India did not receive the CPC designation in 2020.
“The national government allowed violence against minorities and their houses of worship to continue with impunity and engaged in and tolerated hate speech and incitement to violence,” FIACONA said. “The Indian government headed by the Hindu nationalist BJP party continues to claim so conveniently that all such violence against Christians in India is isolated incidents and not the policy of the government.”