Plight of students after ‘conversion’ clash
Mohanti Salaam, a Class IX student, has been living in a shelter camp in Chhattisgarh’s tribal-dominated Narayanpur district for the past 21 days after a clash between members of two communities over alleged religious conversion at 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 Christians and non-Christians in the district.
Salaam says she wants to pursue studies and return to her village to be able to go to school. She is among more than 30 children, living at the shelter camp set up in an indoor stadium in Narayanpur city after their families were allegedly forced to leave villages for converting to Christianity.
“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 about how I will get back to my school. I want to study,” Salaam told PTI.
Eleven schoolchildren from Borawand are living with their families at the camp.
On December 18, 2022, a large number of tribal Christian families from 14 villages in the Benoor area of Narayanpur held 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 promised to take necessary action, shifted them to the temporary shelter and arranged basic amenities for them.
The parents of the children living in the shelter camp are worried about 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 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.
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 X and XII,” Vasant said. He has said the administration is holding discussions with members of both communities.