PALGHAR, Maharashtra, (Dr. John Dayal) — For over 10 days, a torn Bible and a damaged harmonium have been lying in a makeshift prayer hall which villagers now take turn to guard—just the way the attackers had left them on December 30 (2012). Although the anger has subsided, the tribals are unable to muster courage to resume their Sunday prayer service.
The tribal Christians of Tamsai village in Palghar claim that the makeshift prayer hall was attacked after the gram panchayat threatened them to stop the prayer service or else “face the consequences”. They allege that the villagers who attacked them were “angered” by the spread of Christianity.
While the Palghar Superintendent of Police claimed it was an internal fight among villagers without any communal motive, the sarpanch of the gram panchayat denied having made any threat of a social boycott.
According to the victims, the attackers were from their own village and from neighbouring villages. “Most of them are known to us,” claimed Raju Bhoir. The victims said they were carrying out their regular Sunday worship service when a few village men came and stopped the prayers. The tribals, who insist that they have not converted into Christianity but merely follow the path of Jesus, have been carrying out prayer services for the last three years.
Bharat Patil, 22, who has “dedicated” himself to religious work says that the panchayat has unanimously decided to boycott those who accepted Christianity. “They have decided to deny us water and firewood if we stay converted. We have been trying to convince them that our documents still remain the same. We have just chosen a newer way of life without undergoing any sort of conversion,” he said.
Superintendent of Police (Palghar) Anil Kumbhare said: “The village has seen several outsiders regularly visiting them and preaching Christianity. On that day, too, some people had come and it led to an internal fight.”
According to the tribal Christians, the gram panchayat has denied them access to village wells and firewood. “We were thrashed. They walked in while the prayer was on. Many women were also attacked,” said Sainath Amboravate whose family embraced Christianity a decade ago and who now works as a preacher.
Disruption caused during the Sunday morning prayers on December 30 has shaken the villagers in Tamsai and Pochade.
“When those men came, we called the local police immediately. Police arrived, too. But no one helped. We are afraid that these people might strike back,” said Patil.
“Around 300 people come to our village every Sunday for prayers. We had just gathered when these men barged in and began damaging the musical instruments. A copy of the Bible was torn. About 25 of the worshippers sustained injuries and had to be treated,” Patil claimed. “We have given the names of those who attacked us but the police have not taken any action,” said Bhoir.
“It was an internal fight and was resolved on the same day. We have recorded their statements,” said Senior Police Inspector of Manor Vijay Pawar.
Village sarpanch Kailash Andher claimed that it was a “petty quarrel” among a few villagers and was not communal in nature. “It was a small fracas and was resolved immediately,” he said.
A group of villagers on Thursday (10 Jan) met former president of the Indian Christian Voice Dr. Abraham Mathai. “The tribal Christians from Mokhada, Wada, Vikramgarg and now Palghar have continued to suffer from a spate of attacks perpetrated by extremist elements because of the communal bias of the police. It is most shocking when these poor tribals are attacked in the presence of the police,” Mathai said.