NARAYANPUR, India — Over two decades of practicing and proselytizing Christianity, Badinath Salam had been kicked out of his home several times and often harassed. But in December, he recalled, the vitriol turned virulent.
When the drumbeats began again a week later, on Jan. 9, Salam ran for his life. In this part of central India, he wasn’t the only Christian forced to flee.
Since December, Hindu vigilantes in Chhattisgarh state in eastern India, enraged by the spread of Christianity and rallied by local political leaders, have assaulted and displaced hundreds of Christian converts in dozens of villages and left a trail of damaged churches, according to interviews with local Christians and activists and as seen during a recent trip to the area.
That visit to the remote region — a day’s drive from the nearest airport — revealed the extent of the chaos and its uneasy aftermath. In villages, bruised and beaten Christian converts picked through the rubble of churches destroyed by mobs wielding sledgehammers. In dusty townships, Hindu nationalist leaders led impassioned rallies promising more action against Christian conversions. In an empty government gym of the dusty township of Narayanpur, evicted families including Salam’s sought refuge, sleeping on mats next to a few sacks of spare clothes and grain.
The violence played out in one of the most culturally unique parts of India, a stretch of forested hills where missionaries from different religions and even Maoist guerrillas have long vied for the hearts and souls of Indigenous tribes. But the episode also illustrated a broader truth about India today: that antipathy toward the Abrahamic religions of Islam and Christianity — often portrayed as alien religions brought to India by its historical invaders — can be wielded as an effective mobilizing force for political ends.
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