Family in India Driven from Village for Embracing Christ

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Christian’s parents join thousands in ostracizing believers in hamlet in Jharkhand state.

by Nirmala Carvalho

MUMBAI, India, May 26 (Compass Direct) -- Animist worshipers of nature in a village in Jharkhand state this week humiliated and drove out a local family for becoming Christians.

Santosh Karmali, 42, on Sunday (May 21) was forced to sign an agreement with followers of the Sarna religion in Dubalia village, Ranchi district, forfeiting his family’s land. Sarna is the collective name for animist tribal religions.

Karmali’s wife, Shiva Devi, was then tonsured and had lime powder applied to her face. Villagers paraded her around the village and chased her, Karmali and sons Amar, Vikram and Preetam out of the village. Cutting all ties with the family, Santosh’s father, Ram Kishun Karmali, and mother joined thousands of villagers in driving them out of Dubalia.

The family has been barred from town so that they do not “pollute the atmosphere of the village any more,” sources told Compass. The Sarna samiti, a socio-religious committee of tribal peoples in Jharkhand, has taken possession of the land owned by Karmali.

Sandeep Oraon, general secretary of the Dubalia tribal group, announced that his co-religionists would soon knock on every door of the village to spread the accusation that Christian missionary medical camps and schools had the sole intention of converting the tribal people, sources told Compass.

Ranchi is largely perceived to be the center of the tribal Church in eastern India and has been a target for right-wing Hindu groups.

The Rev. Dr. Babu Joseph, spokesman for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), told Compass that the treatment of the family showed a total disregard for the rights of those who want to exercise their freedom of conscience.

“This amounts to social coercion on an individual who has every right to choose his belief and practices,” he said.

The family had belonged to the Sarna tribal religion, which calls for worship of nature such as trees and rivers. Karmali and his family had recently embraced Christ.

The Central Sarna Committee (CSC) exercises powerful tribal control over the Sarna-practicing tribal peoples, closely monitoring their lives. The CSC held that Karmali and his family were “bribed” to accept Christianity by Christian missionaries.

It was at a meeting of the committee, along with the village panchayat (local/civic village council) in Dubalia village, that Karmali was forced to sign an agreement dispossessing him of his plot of land.

Sarna Reconversion Event

The Sarna religion also caused a stir on the outskirts of the Jharkhand state capital of Ranchi yesterday (May 25).

In what Christian leaders called defiance of the state’s anti-conversion law against forcible conversions, some 24 Christians “reconverted” to Sarna at a ceremony organized by the animist group Sarna Sanatan Rakshak Samiti.

The political group Vanvasi Kalyan Kendra supported the event.

Rev. Joseph of the CBCI told Compass that it was ironic that those who accuse Christians of indulging in coercive practices are doing that very thing with perfect impunity.

“That speaks volumes of their much-tolerated incongruence,” he said. “Religious faith is not to be subjected to the whimsy of political organizations. When that happens, religion is set to lose its grounding, and that is, I am afraid, precisely what is happening in our country at the hands of a few tiny but vociferous socio-political groups claiming to represent the vast majority of Indians who love social harmony.”

Addressing the occasion as a keynote speaker, former Indian Minister of State for Environment Dilip Singh Judeo said, “I have come across many converted tribal people. A majority of them said that they were lured by the Western ‘glitterati’ and wanted to come back to their original faith.”

The All India Catholic Union is exploring the possibility of taking legal action against Judeo and event organizers for violating the state anti-conversion law.

Copyright 2006 Compass Direct