Hindustan Times 2023-02-16

Christian-Tribal Conflict Has Old Fault Lines

Even as the vexed issue of conversions, from one faith to another, is being argued in the Indian law courts, it continues to leave behind a bloody trail, as Mahatma Gandhi had warned on numerous occasions. The new year started on a violent note in Narayanpur in Chhattisgarh. On January 2, unrest simmering for months in the area, imploded. Local tribals and recent converts to Christianity were arraigned against each other. Each side is accusing the other, of orchestrating violence. The conflict is not a sudden development. In a note in July 2021, the Sukma superintendent of police Sunil Sharma first flagged the possibility of conflict. “Christian missionaries and converted tribes are reaching the interiors of the district and are luring local tribals. We cannot deny the possibility of conflict between converted tribals and locals.” The expression “luring local tribals”, neatly sums up the problem. Who threw the first stone or provoked violence in Narayanpur– tribals or converts– is for the police to investigate and law Courts to decide. But the reasons leading to this ugly situation are all too familiar. The tribals (Janjatis as the constitution defines them) have a unique life style, distinct culture, and indigenous modes of worship- shaped by their continued engagement with nature.