Home General News 18 Christians jailed in India, battling false accusation from five years ago

18 Christians jailed in India, battling false accusation from five years ago

by ervte

NEW DELHI (Morning Star News) – Christians falsely accused of crimes related to an act of vandalism in central India five years ago have spent five days in jail and are fighting the case again after it mysteriously reappears surfaced, sources said.

The 18 Christians, including a widow, in Bhelwapal village in Chhattisgarh state, Sukma district, were imprisoned from March 9-14. However, one of the traditional tribal animists falsely accused them in 2017 has since become a Christian and has explained how they were framed.

Indigenous villagers who damaged a pastor’s home and church building in 2017 smashed a Hindu idol, telling officers the Pastor had done so to justify destroying his property, according to church leader Pastor Hidma Sodi.18 Christians jailed in India, battling false accusation from five years ago

“A family that held hands with those who brought the idol and broke it, but blamed the Christians for the same, has come to the Christian faith,” Pastor Sodi told Morning Star News. “They have not only told us how this conspiracy was planned and carried out to frame the Christians but are also willing to speak as witnesses in court.”

Because the Christians had filed a complaint with the police, the tribal animists planned to attack the Pastor and three church members in July 2017. Word of the plot reached Pastor Sodi, who fled with his family, as did the three other Christian families.

The attackers reached Pastor Sodi’s home at 3 p.m. on July 14, 2017, and when they did not find him there, they further damaged his home and the church building across the street, he said. Although he had lived in the house with his wife and four sons since 2008, authorities said he would not be allowed to return to the home or village for more than six months; he moved to Sukma, where he has lived ever since.

After Christians repaired his house, he gave it to a church widow as a caretaker while he remained in Sukma – she was one of those arrested and sent to prison in March.

Pastor Sodi said the officer investigating the case in 2017 knew the animists had broken the idol but registered a lawsuit against the Christians.

“They have not only told us how this conspiracy was planned and carried out to frame the Christians, but are also willing to speak as witnesses in court.” – Pastor Hidma Sodi.

The Chhattisgarh Christian Forum petitioned the state Supreme Court in Bilaspur on the matter, and it ordered a compromise on May 28, 2018, allowing the Christians to worship peacefully in exchange for dropping all charges against the tribal animists, also dropping charges against the Christians, said Arun Pannalal, chairman of the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum.

“The head of the police station went to the village and explained the court order and the consequences if the villagers did not follow it,” Pannalal told Morning Star News.

Despite the agreement, Pastor Sodi said the case was reopened for unknown reasons at some point in 2019 or 2020. The station manager called him and said that the Christians and the animists of the tribe had to come to another compromise.

“I don’t know why the case was reopened,” Pastor Sodi said.

Before a new agreement could be reached, the COVID-19 lockdowns delayed the process, and he said he didn’t hear from authorities for about two years. The responsible station was handed over earlier this year, and a new one took over. The station’s new manager noted that a compromise was in the works.

He said that the 18 Christians and the eight indigenous villagers named in the First Information Report (FIR) turned themselves into the police station, where they were expected to appear in court on March 9.

First taken to a hospital for COVID-19 testing from morning until 3 p.m., when the Christians and the eight villagers appeared in court, the judge said he was only available until 4 p.m., Pastor Sodi said.

“By the time the police presented us in court, there was hardly time left for discussing a compromise,” he said. “The magistrate ordered all Christians and the eight villagers to be imprisoned.”

The Christians were accused of hurting religious feelings, and since they have not received a copy of the FIR, they can only assume that the villagers are still charged with vandalism.

While the Christian men were placed in Sukma prison, the widow was sent to a jail in Jagdalpur, 66 miles away. The Christians were released on bail five days later, and it was unclear when the eight villagers were released.

“For example, powers are abused to persecute Christians,” said Pannalal of the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum. “They had our moral and advisory support. People without support languish in prisons for years, which is very sad.”

After obtaining bail on March 14, the Christians were taken to court on Friday (April 29) along with the attackers of the tribal animists, Pastor Sodi said.

“We don’t know how long the case will drag on,” he said. “There are many financial matters involved in showing up for court dates, in addition to the harassment Christians face through no fault of their own, but they stand strong in the knowledge that they are suffering for their faith.”

He said the next court hearing is expected to occur in June.

Since the court order of May 28, 2018, Pastor Sodi began to visit the village again and conduct regular worship services there. In the five years since the 2017 case, seven families from the town have turned to Christ, said Bhima Sodi, a senior pastor and older brother of Hidma Sodi.

Police follow Christians

In the Sukma district and the Bastar division, there have been many incidents of Christians being targeted by their faith.

“Since the formation of the Sarv Adivasi Samaj [All Tribal Community, a local tribal rights body], incidents of violence against Christians in Sukma have increased,” said Pastor Bhima Sodi.

Local officials have contributed to an atmosphere of hostility by following Christian movements. In an official letter in July titled, “Concerning the Religious Activities Conducted by Christian Missionaries in the Area,” Police Superintendent Sunil Sharma ordered all sub-department officers and chiefs of police stations under him to stop the activities of Christian workers and converted tribes. Follow For possible illegal conversions.

Sharma claimed in the letter that Christian workers and converts from tribes in the district enticed and persuaded tribes to convert by offering them incentives.

In November, Bastar Commissioner Govindram Churendra reportedly issued controversial directives to subordinate district magistrates who translated from Hindi, read:

“List all villages, families, and individuals from other communities who Christians may entice to convert.”

“Bring people who have converted to Christianity back to the original community through brotherhood and goodwill.”

“Initiate campaigns for people who have not yet converted so that they continue to believe in their traditions, gods and goddesses and rituals.”

Several reports of authorities issuing controversial guidelines that portray Christians badly show government bias, said Rev. Vijayesh Lal, general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI).

“They make it clear that an agenda is being pushed even by the government, which is supposed to be neutral and function under the country’s constitution,” Pastor Lal told Morning Star News.

Chhattisgarh was the country’s second-worst state in terms of Christians being targeted by their faith, according to a 2021 report from the EFI’s Religious Liberty Commission. Uttar Pradesh led the list with 129 cases of hatred and targeted violence against Christians, while Chhattisgarh had 74.

“The government of not only Chhattisgarh, but also other states and the Center must protect not only the minorities, but also the constitution of the country, which guarantees equality under the law, and the freedom to practice the faith of one’s choice put into practice and propagate,” said Pastor. Said, Lal. “It is necessary to remind political groups, the state apparatus, and the legal system what the Prime Minister and Supreme Court of India have assured our compatriots: religious freedom for all.”

The hostile tone of the government of the National Democratic Alliance, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, against non-Hindus has encouraged Hindu extremists in various parts of the country to attack Christians since Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave power came in May 2014, religious rights advocates say.

India was ranked 10th on the Christian aid organization Open Doors’ 2022 World Watch List of countries where it is hardest to be Christian, as in 2021. The land was ranked 31st in 2013, but its position deteriorated after Modi came to power.

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