Hindu nationalists said to be responsible for fatal attacks but enjoy impunity thanks to support inside ruling BJP
Church leaders in India have concerns of further civilian unrest after mob attacks killed eight people in three separate incidents over the weekend.
In the latest incident on July 20, a group of more than 10 men beat and killed four people — two men and two women — in the Gumla district of Jharkhand state.
The four deceased, all aged between 60 and 65, came from three different families.
Local media, quoting unnamed sources, said the fatal beatings were handed out after leaders of the local village assembly (panchayat) met and found the victims guilty of practicing black magic.
In a similar incident the day before, three people were beaten to death by a mob in the Saran district of the neighboring state of Bihar. Police said the perpetrators claimed that they had attempted to steal a buffalo, something denied by the victims’ families.
Two of the three died at the scene while the third died on the way to hospital, said Police Superintendent Har Kishore Rai.
In the third incident a 55-year-old man was lynched in the Neemuch district of Madhya Pradesh for allegedly stealing and killing peacocks — killing India’s national bird is a criminal offense.
Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal, the capital city of Madhya Pradesh, said mob lynching was evidence of “a dangerous path” to which the nation was being pushed. “It is not people generally,” Archbishop Cornelio said. “In most cases it is local goons and fanatic Hindu groups who are involved in such violence,” he said.
Christian leaders claim hard-line Hindu groups that engage in such violence enjoy impunity because the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that runs the country supports their ideology of making India a nation of Hindu upper-caste supremacy.
“Many of them have the backing of the political party in power and thus police find it difficult to effectively act against them,” the archbishop said.
“Unless the government takes serious steps to break this vicious circle, the country will move into anarchy.”
Nor is the government always shy of betraying where its sympathies lie. Jayant Sinha, the-then federal Aviation Minister in the previous BJP-led national government, last year garlanded and congratulated eight people convicted in the killing of a Muslim meat trader inside his own home in Jharkhand.
Bishop Paul Alois Lakra, of Gumla in Jharkhand state, said the government should “take stern action against those taking the law into their hands in the name of cow protection, black magic or any other reason.”
The bishop, in whose diocese four people were killed on suspicion of black magic, told ucanews.com that some people from the indigenous communities “practice witchcraft due to ignorance.”
“Killing them on the street solves no problems,” said Bishop Lakra, himself a member of the Ora on tribe. “The ignorant need to be educated. There is no excuse for killing people in the name of such practice.”
An average of 156 people, mostly women and children, are killed each year across India after being accused of witchcraft, according to government statistics.
Data from the National Crime Records Bureau, taken from police records, show that between 2000 and 2016 more than 2,500 people were killed in witch hunts.
Rights activists say the actual number could be much higher as many cases are not reported to police or are reported wrongly to save those involved.
Bishop Lakra said education and guidance led to tribal Christian communities dropping black magic long ago. “But that is not the case with non-Christian tribal people in the area,” he said.
Most mob-lynching cases in recent years have been motivated by defense of cows, a revered animal for orthodox Hindus.
Since the BJP came to power in 2014 cow-related violence has increased — at least 44 people were killed in such attacks between 2015 and 2018, according to Human Rights Watch.