Pregnant Christian Woman loses baby after Hindu extremist attack
Hospitals refuse to treat young mother-to-be
Leela Bai, eight months pregnant, rushed outside a house she was visiting in central India after hearing the commotion of a Hindu extremist mob attacking tribal Christians preparing to celebrate the New Year.
Morning Star News has been told that the mob pushed her down and kicked her stomach until she fell unconscious. Later that evening, she miscarried on the way to a hospital – which declined to give her any care, she said.
Scores of tribal Christians planning to celebrate New Year’s Eve with a thanksgiving service; instead, they spent the night in the mountains where they had fled to save their lives.
“My baby died in my womb after they pushed me down and kicked my stomach,” the 25-year-old Bai said as she wept.
Accusing the tribal Christians of converting people, the 30 Hindu extremists were carrying wooden batons and stones as they attacked the Christians in Dewada village, Barwani District, sources said.
“Will you people never learn?” members of the mob said, according to the homeowner, Sardar Vaskale.
“We will not let you conduct the prayer meeting, nor will we let you slaughter the goat; you are carrying out conversions.”
Dividing themselves into groups, the Hindu extremists took Vaskale to one side and began to beat him while another group approached the women and girls, seized their mobile phones and began sexually harassing them, survivors said.
Another group entered Vaskale’s house and began to open and search the luggage of the Christian guests, including girls aged 15 and 17. They also thoroughly searched his house.
Vaskale and a visiting pastor had organised a church service of thanksgiving and prayer and had obtained permission for a gathering of more than 100 people. The New Year’s Eve service planned from 8pm to 1am was open to all, and the celebration meal was planned for the afternoon of January 1.
Vaskale and the other Christians had gone outside the house when the mob appeared at the door; Bai was the only one who had stayed inside. When she went out, they intentionally pushed her down after seeing she was pregnant, she said.
“I fell down and landed on my stomach,” she said. “I got dizzy, and immediately someone from the mob came and started kicking my stomach.”
She said she did not know how long they kicked her after she became unconscious. The assailants beat all the men, women and children – eight Christians in all, Vaskale said.
The tribal Christians said they suspect the assailants were members of the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological mother of the ruling party in the state, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The assailants called the police while they continued to assault and harass the Christians, Vaskale said.
“Before we reached the hospital, I delivered the baby inside the ambulance, and he was a dead baby.” – Leela Bai
“Mangal Patel, a man from the RSS mob, told me that they all are carrying guns and threatened that they would kill us if we dared to report the matter to the police or to anybody,” he told Morning Star News.
“Leela had lost consciousness, and two women quietly and quickly picked her up and took her to my aunt’s house nearby.”
As the assailants had seized their cell phones, Vaskale searched for and found someone from whom to borrow a phone to call an ambulance and inform Bai’s husband, he said.
Bai’s husband, Rakesh Alawe, soon arrived and rushed her to the Thikri hospital two miles away, accompanied by some older Christian women.
“Leela’s pain intensified as we drove in the ambulance,” Alawe told Morning Star News.
Bai added, “Before we reached the hospital, I delivered the baby inside the ambulance, and he was a dead baby.”
The attack started at about 2:30pm, and the couple reached the Thikri hospital around 4:30pm, mourning the loss of their child.
“The doctors almost immediately handed over our baby to Rakesh and asked him to perform his last rites,” Bai said.
Though Bai was weak from blood loss, hospital authorities did not give her any medical treatment, she and her husband said.
“The medical staff did not check me, nor did they give me any injection or medicines,” Bai told Morning Star News. “I just lay on the bed like a half-dead person for six or seven hours.”
Christian leaders said hospital authorities were under intense pressure to give no treatment to her.
“It was plain to see that because of political pressure, the hospital authorities did not take Leela’s case,” Idu Bhai Chauhan, a pastor and Christian leader of Barwani, told Morning Star News.
Alawe took her to a Barwani government hospital [about 35 kilometres] away, but when they arrived at about 3am, medical personnel also declined to treat her, Bai said.
The hospital appears to have made no record of their visit.
The nightmare scenario left Alawe feeling harassed and helpless, he said.
“We were in trauma for already losing our child because of the Hindu extremists, and here we were hopping from hospital to hospital seeking medical attention for Leela, and the extremists had influenced all these people and placed hurdles for us everywhere we went,” he said.
Hospital authorities told Bai to leave the hospital at 11am.
“They did not treat me in the hospital, and when I asked a nursing staff to give me something for my weakness and dizziness, she shouted back at me and asked me to keep quiet,” Bai said.
The hospital appears to have made no record of their visit. Sub-Divisional Officer of Police (SDOP) Ruprekha Yadav denied that the couple went to the Barwani hospital.
“They did not reach the hospital – there is no entry of their name in the hospital register,” she told Morning Star News.
As the couple had no money for a private hospital, Pastor Chauhan later arranged for payment for her to be admitted to one, Alawe said.
The Hindu extremists called the police, intending to have the Christians arrested under a newly enacted “anti-conversion” law in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh that prohibits fraudulent or forcible conversion.
The officer in charge of the police station told Christians that officers were under political pressure and thus could do nothing for them, Sardar said.
“[Christians] were told that they would be arrested and would spend the rest of their life in prison.” – Idu Bhai Chauhan
Officer Yadav denied any kind of political pressure and emphasised that conversions were taking place at Vaskale’s house. Conversions are not illegal in India, but the new state law requires advance permissions to change religion.
“Conversion activity was taking place in Sardar’s house …” Yadav said.
She confirmed that police had confiscated two bags from Vaskale’s house, one belonging to the local pastor, which contained a Bible, Christian literature and banners for the program – supposed to be evidence of conversion activity.
Asked how the presence of a Bible could be evidence of a crime if the presence of a Hindu Geeta scripture at a Hindu religious gathering was not, Yadav agreed with the premise.
“It is an individual’s constitutional right that whatever religion one wants to follow, they are free to,” she said but would not comment further.
Sardar and a few others went to the Thikri police station to register a formal complaint on the evening of December 31, Vaskale said. Officers made them wait outside the station until 2am before they would even speak to them, and then told them to leave and come back at daylight, he said.
All village Christians had fled to the nearby mountains to spend the night, he said.
“The RSS mob had told us that they would kill us. We were so scared that we fled to the mountains and hid there for the night,” Vaskale said.
Pastor Chauhan said that the village Christians were relatively new in faith and were deeply frightened.
“They were told that they would be arrested and would spend the rest of their life in prison,” he said.
Vaskale and others went to the police station on the morning of January 1, where police again made them wait outside – this time until past midnight.
“From December 31 till January 5, we went to the police station every day,” Vaskale said. “We were only able to give a written complaint at the police station, but they would not register an FIR [First Information Report]. We spent each day waiting to be heard by the police. But the policemen said, ‘Why do you come here? We can do nothing. There is pressure from the authorities.’”
“Leela was very weak physically, yet she spent more than 30 hours outside the police station …” – Jaikar Kristi
Christian leaders from Barwani, Indore and surrounding districts decided to lead a peaceful protest outside the police station demanding that their complaint be registered.
Members of tribal rights groups joined the protests at Thikri police station, as did Bai, who sat outside the station from noon of January 6 till the evening of January 7.
“Leela was very weak physically, yet she spent more than 30 hours outside the police station under the sky, in acute winter,” said Jaikar Kristi, a Christian leader who reached Thikri from Indore to support the Christians.
Already weak, Bai fell ill after the protest and had to be hospitalised on January 8.
“I could not stand or walk,” Bai said. “I felt dizzy all the time.”
Officials at the police station threatened to arrest the Christians if they did not leave the premises, said Vaskale.
National media reported that Raju Patel, member of the tribal rights group JAYS, claimed that police pressured the victims to sign an agreement with the assailants or withdraw their complaint.
“We have held a day-long dharna [protest] at the police station demanding a FIR, but no action has been taken even after two weeks because the attackers are associated with the RSS,” Patel reportedly said.
Under Christian leader Kristi’s guidance, the victims submitted a private complaint in the magistrate’s office in Barwani.
“We have requested the honourable court to direct the police to file an FIR in the case of the death of the foetus,” attorney Umesh Mansode told Morning Star News.
A hearing took place on January 27 with Kristi and the attorney present.
“The magistrate said that the Madhya Pradesh anti-conversion law, Section 3/5(1), is a new law for him, and he will have to study the law,” Kristi said.
“He said that he needs ten days to study the law, and then he will further hear the case.”
Alawe, family members and the pastor buried the deceased baby at 7pm on the same day as the attack. After tribal Christians persisted in calls for police to investigate, officers agreed to exhume the body and conduct an autopsy.
The body was exhumed for autopsy on January 8 and buried again on January 9, Officer Yadav said.
Authorities have not shared results with the parents or with others, but Yadav told Morning Star News that the autopsy report states, “No definite opinion can be given regarding the cause of death,” and thus, “we preserved the viscera and sent it further to the Forensic Science Laboratory for analysis, to clarify the cause of death.”
Religious rights advocates say the hostile tone of the National Democratic Alliance government – led by the Hindu nationalist BJP – against non-Hindus has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians, since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May, 2014.
India ranked 10th on Christian support organisation Open Doors’ 2021 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, as it was in 2020. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position worsened after Modi came to power.
*Morning Star News. Republished with permission.