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Ground Report from Chhattisgarh: The village in Jashpur that once forced pastors out finds no place for Hindus today

Khadkona or Korkotoli are not just villages. These places show us how Christian missionaries have infiltrated and expanded in remote forest areas. According to the 2011 census, about 22% of the Jashpur district's population is Christian. According to local lawyer Ram Prakash Pandey, this number can be up to 30-40%.

Jashpur in Chhattisgarh is a major centre of Christian conversion. The first recorded incident of religious conversion of Hindus from the Scheduled Tribes category is in 1906. A memorial is also built in Khadkona in memory of the first lot of people of Korkotoli and Khadkona villages who became Christians. A total of 56 names are inscribed on it. It is reported that they were baptized on November 21, 1906.

There is a roadside board just before entering Khadkona village in Manora block. This board points to the road that leads to a place adjacent to the hill, which local Christians call ‘Saheb Kona’. There is an annual event here, in which converted Hindus participate. Regarding ‘Saheb Kona’, locals claim that for the first time through today’s Jharkhand, the missionaries came to this place through forests and mountains and conversion started in this area.

The cross at the entry point of the Khadkona village. Image Source: OpIndia

After travelling about 10 km from Asta, a path from the main road goes to Khadkona. The 7.3-km-long route to Khadakona is surrounded by farmlands and forests. The hills far away are also seen from the road. After a few kilometres on this road, there is a church adjacent to the road. Large wooden crosses are placed along the road at regular distances. At the entry point of the Khadkona village, there is a ‘Cross Chowk’. There are some houses around. There is a water tank. Also a public water hand pump.

A trail starting near the hand pump leads to a small hill. On this mound is the monument, on which the names of Hindus who converted in 1906 are recorded. The memorial was built on the completion of 100 years of conversion. There is a church as well. According to the plaque on the church, it was built by Father Patras Toppo in 1984.

A memorial built in 1906 in Korkotoli and Khadkona in memory of the people who were the first ones to become Christians. Image Source: OpIndia

When we reached Khadkona, there was silence at the Cross Chowk. But when we returned from the church, some people had gathered there. Martin, aged 68, is a resident of Khadkona. He is a farmer. He told OpIndia, “There are 39 households in the village, of which 30-32 families are Christians. Most of them are farmers.”

Ramesh Ram, aged 25, was the only Hindu we met in this village. He told, “There are only 5 Hindu families left in the village. They hardly get any work.” As we were in talks, the villagers present there started questioning us. They were angry that we had shot church videos, and that we were asking questions about conversions and the activities of Christian missionaries. Some even made videos of us. As the situation started heating up, we returned from the village.

Villagers gathered at the Cross Chowk. The Saheb Konaseen on the right. Image Source: OpIndia

While returning, we headed on the road that led to the ‘Saheb Kona’. There we met Kalabel, aged 65, a resident from Korkotoli. She is studied up to the fourth standard. She is a farmer. She was drying her clothes in the open after bathing. Like Khadkona, Korkotoli is also a Christian-dominated village. Kalabel told us, “There are 35 households in my village. Of these, only 7 families are Hindus.”

She showed us the place where Christian missionaries reportedly had reached for the first time. She showed the waterfall, where her ancestors were baptized. She also showed us the cave through which the missionaries had escaped as the members of the royal family of Jashpur had arrived after knowing about the forced religious conversions. Now this place is a ‘pilgrimage site’ for Christians. A stage is also built here.

Kalabel told OpIndia, “Saheb people (proselitizers) used to come from Jharkhand and used to camp here. It was here that the people of the village were called. Earlier there was a dense forest here. A pilgrimage is held here every year on November 29. One-and-a-half million people gather. According to Kalabel, these converted Christians no longer benefit much from Christian missionaries. She said, “Only our ancestors who converted their religion were benefitted from the missionaries. We get the same benefit that the government gives.”

There are symbols of Christianity all over in Khadkona. Image Source: OpIndia

While we were shooting near the waterfall, the group of villagers who had stopped us from our work at the Cross Chowk were seen coming towards ‘Saheb Kona’. Seeing this, our local contact advised us to leave. He said, “You will go back. But we have to live here.” We left the trail and came to the main road.

On the way, some people also gathered near the church, where there was silence at the time of our arrival and the main gate of the church was found closed. They didn’t let us stop near the church. When we tried to click a photograph, we were forced to leave. It is also worth noting that it was difficult for us to get any external help had we been trapped in an adverse situation in Khadkona. Airtel and Vodafone’s mobile networks were not working in that area.

Khadkona or Korkotoli are not just villages. These places show us how Christian missionaries have infiltrated and expanded in remote forest areas. According to the 2011 census, about 22% of the Jashpur district’s population is Christian. According to local lawyer Ram Prakash Pandey, this number can be up to 30-40%.

These villages are symbols of an ecosystem that enjoys government patronage. On the strength of that protection, they have created such areas in democratic India, where the media cannot even ask questions. The roadside crosses mark their territories and indicate that there are only a few Hindus left here.

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