About 30 to 40 members of a Hindutva group on Sunday allegedly disrupted a Christian prayer service and vandalised the venue in Chhattisgarh’s Durg district.
The incident took place in Amleshwar village, part of Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel’s Assembly constituency of Patan, after the mob accused Christians of religious conversion. Arun Pannalal, president of the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum, alleged that those who disrupted the prayer service were members of the Bajrang Dal, part of the Sangh Parivar, The Telegraph reported.
However, Lalchand Sahu, a member of the congregation, told Scroll that Umesh Sahu, a Congress leader from Patan, was also among those who disrupted the prayer service.
A video from the incident showed him among a group of men holding up copies of the Bible. A man was heard in the video claiming that Hindus “had been lured” to the venue and that members of the congregation were engaging in religious conversion through fraudulent means.
“Umesh Sahu was part of the mob,” Lalchand Sahu said. “He is in fact the one who gathered the mob and led them.”
He said that members of the mob marched towards the house where the service was being conducted, shouting slogans of “Jai Shri Ram”. Members of the congregation then shut the door to stop the mob from entering, he said.
Lalchand Sahu said that the mob then started hitting the doors with sticks and turned a running hose connected to tap water into the house. The mob also destroyed CCTV cameras installed in the house after spotting them and cut off electricity to the house.
Sahu told Scroll that the police arrived at the location in half an hour.
“We opened the gate [of the house] after the police came in large numbers,” he said. “When the police came inside, they asked us what was happening and sought registration papers... they did nothing against the mob.”
Sahu said that the police detained the Christian leaders and took them to the police station. He shared videos with Scroll that showed the mob trying to attack one of the leaders as others made derogatory comments. As a police vehicle took the Christian leaders away, the mob was seen cheering and shouting slogans of “Jai Shri Ram”.
Videos also show a member of the Hindutva group asking members of the congregation why they were at the prayer service and if they were attacked by the mob. This conversation takes place even as one of the men threatens to beat a member of the congregation while abusing him verbally.
Sahu said that members of the mob live near the venue and had occasionally objected to the prayers. He added that the police have not filed a case against the mob but detained the Christian leaders under Section 151 (knowingly joining or continuing in assembly of five or more persons after it has been commanded to disperse) of the Indian Penal Code.
Dr Vinay Sahu, a dentist, told The Telegraph that he and nine other Christians had been taken into preventive arrest before being released at 8 pm on a personal recognisance bond.
Vinay Sahu also claimed that about five Christians were attacked and suffered bruises.
“We were surprised that the Bajrang Dal members attacked our members right in front of the police, who remained mute spectators,” he alleged, reported The Telegraph.
The police, however, have rejected the allegations of assault and vandalism.
Jagdish Prasad, the police officer in charge of the Amleshwar Police Station, also told Scroll that they have not fired a first information report against anyone. “A prayer meeting was taking place,” he said. “After that, we took preventive action. We did not file any FIR.”
This is not the first time Christians have been attacked in Chhattisgarh.
In April, members of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Hindutva group Vishwa Hindu Parishad had pledged the economic boycott of Muslims and Christians in Chhattisgarh’s Jagdalpur. In January, a mob had vandalised a church and attacked police officials in the Narayanpur district.
In a report released in December, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties had shown that out of 305 cases of mob attacks and vandalism of places of worship, 57 were reported from Chhattisgarh between January 2021 and November 2021.