Hindus angry at the burial of a former Christian pastor in a new cemetery Thursday forced church members to exhume his body, church leaders said.
The body was buried again Thursday in an older, Christian cemetery that already is full and prone to flooding during India’s monsoons, now in full swing. The new burial plot promptly filled with water.
Rev. Daniel Das, retired pastor of the Church of North India in Pithora, died Thursday morning in Pendridih, a village in India’s largely rural Chhattisgarh state. He had lived in Pendridih since his retirement, with is daughter and son-in-law, Santosh Lilahre, and was a member of the Disciples Church of Christ.
The burial ground used by the church, about 1 acre, is full, said the church’s pastor, Rev. Rodrick John. During the annual summer rains, the cemetery can be inaccessible and the ground impossible to dig.
That’s why, six years ago, the sub-divisional magistrate for the area set aside new ground for a cemetery. It straddles the border separating Pendridih village from the adjoining village of Chhattona.
John said the Pendridih village council agreed in 2011 to devote the new land to Christian burials. The agreement was made orally, and “official documentation is in process,” he said.
The late Rev. Das was laid to rest Thursday in a plot in the new burial ground.
At about 4:30 p.m., about 600 members of the Kurmi Samaj, a Hindu agricultural community, from Chhattona village stormed the site, shouting slogans.
“Much of the sloganeering was directed against Christians,” said Rev. Rajesh Mathur, a pastor from the village of Mungeli. The leader of the crowd, he said, was a former Chhattona government official.
They insisted that because half of the new land set aside for burials resides in the Hindu-dominated Chattonna village, Christians should not be buried anywhere within the new site. The sub-district magistrate, identified as Mr. Tiwari, tried to reason with the protesters.
“He told the mob that ethically a dead body should not be disturbed post burial as this would be violating its solemnity,” Mathur said. “But the mob was in no mood to listen.”
The magistrate threw up his hands.
“He left it to us Christians to decide as to what would we do,” John said. To avert violence, the Christians exhumed the body and moved it to the older cemetery.
“They had to use pumps to drain out water from the old graveyard, but the water kept coming back,” Mathur said. “Finally they laid the body to rest in a hurriedly dug ditch which was filled with water anyways.”
The situation grew even more tense later Thursday when the Kurmi Samaj staged a rally against the Christians in the area. No violence has been reported, but “he incident has left the community shaken and the village polarized,” John said. “There is the feeling of victory among the leaders of the mob, and the Christians are fearful and dejected.”
India is listed at No. 32 on the Open Doors World Watch list of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. “Persecution is largely due to the amazing growth of Christianity among the low castes and Dalits, which threatens Hindu leaders,” according to the World Watch List. “Violence against pastors and church gatherings continues on a monthly basis, usually in rural areas.”
Chhattisgarh recorded the 2nd highest number of attacks against Christians in 2011, according to the Evangelical Fellowship of India and the Global Council of Indian Christians. Christians constitute 1.9 % of the total population of Chhattisgarh.