Threatened and beaten up for worshipping Jesus Christ, tribals in Tamsai village in Palghar tehsil in Thane district of Maharashtra are bemused that “brothers and sisters” of their own village have turned against them and called for a social boycott. After the threat issued against worshipping the “Christian god,” the Sunday prayers in the village have been stopped indefinitely.
Meanwhile, the pastors in the tribal belt of Thane district have decided to join hands against the extremist elements and will be holding a first-ever joint meeting on Saturday to combat the terror of religious extremists.
On Friday, when The Hindu visited Kaspada village, the signs of vandalism were still visible. A broken harmonium lay on the floor while the uprooted wooden wall of the prayer hall was thrown in front of the neighbouring house. The only thing removed from the hall was the half-torn Bible, which was kept safely inside the house.
The incident took place on the morning of December 30, 2012 when the pastor entered the village for regular prayer. A mob of around 150 villagers, mostly tribals, objected to the “Christian god” and disrupted the prayer. Many in the mob were allegedly drunk, and threatened and beat up two people. The mob then marched to another place in the same village where another prayer meeting was being held and vandalised it.
“The pastor has been asked not to enter the village to conduct prayers. Even the police authorities have not registered a complaint against the attackers,” said Pandhari Govari, another pastor working in Wada tehsil.
According to the people who regularly attend prayers in the village, they have been threatened with social boycott, which means no one from the village will have any relations with them and the panchayat will not help them in their work. “This will continue until we stop praying to Jesus Christ,” said Mr. Jadhav. He called those who had done this as Hindu tribals.
According to Mr. Jadhav, none of the villagers has spoken to them since the attack. The majority of tribals survive as daily wage labourers and fears of being denied employment are rising.
A number of Christian missionary organisations have been working in the tribal belt for several years. Jesus for all Nations, Church of North India, Blessing church, The Voice of Holy Spirit and New Life are some of them. These organisations hold prayer meetings among the tribal community and this has become the point of conflict between those who attend it and Hindu extremist elements.
In the past, nearby places such as Vikramgad and Wada have seen attacks on the tribal Christians by right-wing Hindu elements. The attacks were led by other tribals.
“We never ask them to get converted to Christianity. Not all who come for prayers are Christians. But we do tell them that there is only one god and may be that makes others angry. But we tell tribals what we believe in and they join us voluntarily,” said Mr. Govari, who was the local leader of Shiv Sena, before becoming a pastor.
Sainath Rawte, a pastor in Tamsai village works for the Church of North India. “We never ever said any wrong things about other religions. I fail to understand the conspiracy behind stopping our prayers,” he said.
Police officers, on condition of anonymity, told The Hindu that several villagers mistook the newly started construction near one Ravindra Andhere’s house as one for the new church. “The panchayat hadn’t given permission for the construction of any religious structure and the misunderstanding could have led to the conflict,” said one of the senior police officers of Thane (rural) district.
D.M. Thakur, Assistant Police Inspector of the Manor police station, which has the jurisdiction over Tamsai village, claimed that several present for the prayer told police authorities that they are not Christians. “Then how can we make a case of violence against minorities?” he asked.
Rejecting the claims, Dr. Abraham Mathai, ex-vice-chairman of the State Minority Commission, on Friday met Home Minister R.R. Patil and sought his intervention. “The tribal Christians from Palghar have continued to suffer a spate of attacks perpetrated by extremist elements because of the communal bias of the police. The law enforcement authorities, who are duty bound by the Constitution to provide safety and protection, seem to be loyal to communal elements and as a result, fail to respond as expected,” he said.
The deputy sarpanch of the village, Vijay Shelar, told The Hindu that a minor scuffle has been blown out of proportion. “We are here to take care of everyone, irrespective of their religion. It was the internal matter of the village and we have solved it successfully,” he said.