Clash over 'Religious Conversion' in Chhattisgarh: Children Living in Shelter Camp Worried About Education
Image for representational purpose. Credit: The Wire
Mohanti Salaam, a Class IX student, has been living in a shelter camp in Chhattisgarh's tribal-dominated Narayanpur district for the last 21 days after a clash between members of two communities over alleged religious conversion in her remote Borawand village.
She lost her books and clothes when her family was allegedly evicted from the village following the clash, which took place amid the discord brewing for some time between the Christian and non-Christian communities in the district.
Salaam says she wants to pursue studies and return to her village to be able to go school.
She is among more than 30 children living in the shelter camp set up in the Indoor Stadium in Narayanpur city after their families were allegedly forced to leave their villages for converting to Christianity. This is now affecting their studies.
“We have been living in the Indoor Stadium since December 18. We were evicted from our village. We have lost our books and clothes. I keep thinking how I will get back to my school. I want to study,” Salaam told PTI.
Eleven school children from Borawand village are living with their families in the shelter camp.
On December 18, 2022, a large number of tribal Christian families from 14 villages in Benoor area of Narayanpur staged a protest in front of the district collector's office, claiming they were assaulted by miscreants and evicted from their villages for following the Christian faith.
The district administration had then assured to take necessary action into the matter and shifted them to the temporary shelter and arranged basic amenities for them.
Though they have got shelter, their mental agony is far from over. The parents of the children living in the shelter camp are worried how the kids will be able to continue their education.
“The future of our children is at risk. They saw our houses being vacated. They are not able to attend school. They keep hearing that people (tribal Christians) are being driven away from their houses and it scares them,” said Narasbati Netam, a woman living in the shelter camp.
“We are worried about the disruption of their studies," said Netam, who hails from Bhatpal village.
At the same time, she lauded the children for showing resilience at such a difficult time and helping each other to recover from this challenging phase.
The children who are in higher classes have been teaching the younger kids with whatever study material is available in the shelter camp, she said.
Netam said activities like learning poems and playing badminton in the shelter camp have been helping the children to overcome the trauma.
“But how long will it go? The administration should take immediate steps to ensure our return to our native places,” she added.
The families living in the shelter camp are mostly from Kudargaon, Borawand, Bhatpal and Bhandapal villages in Benoor area.
Ajay Kumeti, a teacher at a government primary school in Kudargaon village, said around 10 children are not attending the school since the clash took place last month. These children have shifted to Narayanpur city along with their families, he said.
Narayanpur Collector Ajeet Vasant said the district administration has been making efforts to ensure the return of the affected families to their villages and at the same time arrangements are being made for the studies of children in the shelter camp.
“I have instructed education department officials to send local school teachers to the camp. The priority is to address the issue of studies of students who are in Classes 10 and 12 and have to appear for the board exams,” Vasant told PTI on Sunday.
At the same time, the administration is holding discussions with members of both the communities and the effort is to shift these families to their native villages in the next three-four days, he said.
“We have convened a meeting on Monday of local public representatives, village heads, Gaita (priest of village in tribal areas) of 68 village panchayats in the district to discuss the situation so that no fresh clash occurs and everyone lives in harmony. After the meeting, villagers living in the shelter camp will be shifted to their homes,” he said.
There have been reports of unrest in various villages in Benoor area of the district for the last two months over the issue of alleged religious conversion.
On January 2, a church was vandalised and six police personnel, including an IPS officer, were injured, in Narayanpur city during a protest by a group of tribals against the alleged religious conversion in the tribal-dominated area.
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