Several Christian families in India remain in hiding following a brutal mob attack by tribal animists that sent 21 Christians to local hospitals.
Morning Star News (MSN) reports the animists threatened to kill the families for informing law enforcement authorities about the attack.
Animism is the belief that objects, places, and creatures all possess a distinct spiritual essence. Animists believe all things—including plants, rocks, rivers, weather systems, human handiwork, and perhaps even words—can be alive.
On Nov. 25, the mob armed with bamboo sticks, iron rods, bows and arrows, and iron sickles, attacked a home and adjoining church hall in Chingrwaram village, Sukma District, where Christians had celebrated a child dedication the previous evening.
The attackers accused the Christians of converting people and celebrating with loud music.
"They beat up the children as well as the women who were cooking food outside," Laxman Mandavi, a 21-year-old survivor of the assault told MSN. "While the children were beaten up with hands and feet, the others were shot at with arrows and beaten up with iron rods."
The assailants shot Mandavi's father, the 50-year-old homeowner Madvi Muka, with arrows, leaving him wounded, and attacked Madkam Sanni with a sickle that left deep cuts between her fingers and fractured her hand, Mandavi said.
"It was complete mayhem, and people were running to save their lives," another victim, 24-year-old Laxshu Madkam said. "I received two cuts on my back. My motorbike was broken. The attackers also broke 10 more motorbikes. They pulled the petrol pipes out of 20 more bikes and let the fuel flow."
Mandavi said four of the assailants entered a room where they found a young Christian woman and attempted to rape her.
"The attackers surrounded an unmarried sister and tore her clothes attempting to rape her," he told MSN. "When she started screaming loudly, they dragged her outside and beat her black and blue. She sustained severe internal injuries."
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Pastor Musaki Kosa, who leads the church, had attended the dedication along with about 80 others (COVID-19 restrictions in the area allow gatherings of up to 100 people). He and nearly 50 people from the church were sleeping overnight at the church hall and nearby home when the mob attacked.
The assault continued until after dawn.
Some survivors said they ran to the nearest Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) camp and asked for help, but officers refused to go with them, saying they could not respond without orders.
Mandavi said, "We made innumerable calls to the local police station, to personal mobile numbers, to the emergency numbers, but nobody answered our calls."
Assuming it was safe to return, some guests who had fled returned to the church hall at about 6 a.m., only to walk into another violent ambush, Mandavi said.
Pastor Kosa said many sustained internal injuries and bruises, including at least 10 Christians with head injuries.
Madvi Bhima, brother of Madvi Muka, filed a report on Nov. 25 against 16 identified assailants. But attorney Amit Manwatkar with the Evangelical Fellowship of India's Religious Liberty Commission said police applied weak sections of the law, diminishing the seriousness of the attacks.
"A religiously motivated violent incident has been shown as a common brawl," Manwatkar told Morning Star News.
Sub-Inspector Ishwar Dhruv said officers arrested 16 suspects but then released them on bail. "In the present time, considering COVID, nobody is ready to keep them in jail," Dhruv told MSN.
Security forces were deployed in the village for three days after the attacks, and Dhruv has reportedly been patrolling the area.
Attacks on Christians Intensify
Attacks on Christians in India's Chhattisgarh state have become more frequent, according to Morning Star News.
The Rev. Vijayesh Lal of the Evangelical Fellowship of India said that in the previous two years Chhattisgarh was not in the top five states where Christians were targeted.
"However, this year, 2020, things have changed," he told MSN. "In our half-yearly report highlighting atrocities on Christians, Chhattisgarh was at No. 2, following Uttar Pradesh, with 24 incidents. Attacks on Christians in the state especially in the Bastar area have been increasing."
Christians constitute 1.92 percent of the total population of the state, according to the 2011 Census.
India ranks 10th on Open Doors' 2020 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position has been worse each year since Narendra Modi of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.