Christians in the Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh state are in a state of apprehension and fear, following repeated threats by self-styled Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) activists that they plan to demolish all ‘illegal’ churches in the district. Even though no serious incidents have been reported two days past the deadline, locals say that a great measure of uncertainty prevails.
Tension prevailed on Sunday, September 26, the proposed day of demolition. However, in a tweet on September 25, the collector of Jhabua said that the district administration would try to maintain social harmony in the region.
“The district administration is fully committed to maintaining social harmony and communal cordiality with full fairness,” the tweet read.
No clashes or demolition was reported on Sunday, but the tension and fear of the minority Christian communities has not eased.
Environment of Fear
A.C. Michael, the former member of Delhi Minorities Commission and National Coordinator of United Christian Forum (UCF), told a news website (The Wire) that there is an environment of fear in the district among the Christian community due to the threats by men claiming to be VHP members.
Earlier last week, Auxiliary Bishop Paul Muniya of the Protestant ‘Shalom Church’ in Jhabua, led a delegation to the District Collector, the top administrative official in the area, and submitted a memorandum addressed to President Ram Nath Kovind.
The letter said that many Christians from the indigenous communiuties in the Jhabua district are being targeted by Hindutva organisations such as Bajrang Dal and VHP and being framed in fake cases of conversion. “Due to such threats, Adivasis in this area are living under fear and pressure,” the letter said.
He also appealed to the state’s governor and chief minister to intervene and diffuse the situation.
“The onslaught on citizens of minority faith continues in Madhya Pradesh. Individuals claiming to be members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) say they are preparing to demolish churches in the Jhabua district on Sunday, 26 September,” Muniya said in the statement.
The Bishop told mediapersons, “If there is an illegal structure, let the administration take action. Why are private individuals and organisations issuing such threats?”
Jhabua district is located in western Madhya Pradesh and borders Baroda. Similar unrest was witnessed in the district when Azad Prem Singh, a local leader of the VHP, had demanded the closure of all churches in the area earlier this year.
After the threats, notices served to priests
In early September, a group of men visited several churches and threatened to demolish all the “illegal structures running as churches”. They also accused the priests of forcefully converting Hindus to Christianity.
A.C. Michael, expressed shock when the Collector of Jhabua, instead of helping the minority, ordered several Christian priests to produce the documents of their appointments and conversions under them.
The notice sent to several Christians priests reads, “Under this notice, it is being stated that if you were forcibly converted or converted by someone with some profitable motive, then please come to my office on 22/09/2021 at 12 pm.”
Father Maria Stephan, PRO of Bhopal Catholic Archdiocese feels both the revenue and police administration of the district are biased against Christians.
Father Maria Stephan said, “Christians are peace-loving citizens. We are seeking judicial remedies to ensure peace and harmony in our society. We have no objection to sharing any official details about our work and personnel to the government provided the intention is right.”
Michael Williams of the United Christian Forum appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah to stop the “targeted violence” against Christians.
Referring to the members who threatened demolition of churches, he said, “The very fabric of our secular nation is being stretched by a few who do not respect the Constitution of India. Such people are the real anti-nationals and must be dealt with as strictly under law as possible. This intolerance has no room in our country.”