Members of a primarily animist tribal community in Antagarh in India’s Chhattisgarh state exhumed the body of a 35-year-old Christian woman against her family’s wishes on 3 November, because of her conversion to Christianity.
Janki Sori was buried in her family-owned land on 1 November, however just two days later members of a tribal group known as the Sarv Adivasi Samaj exhumed her after claiming that their village belongs only to those who follow their religion and culture. Most of those in the community are animists, meaning that they worship nature and spirits, but they are also said to draw influence from Hinduism.
After Ms Sori’s body was exhumed, it was taken for a post-mortem, held for a day in the mortuary, and then buried in a nearby village on 4 November. The Sarv Adivasi Samaj group claimed that they would continue to target converts to Christianity in the same manner until they ‘re-convert’ to the religion of their ancestry and culture.
Sources told CSW that the local police were involved in exhuming Ms Sori’s corpse despite the absence of any court order, which is a pre-requisite for such a process. Sources also reported that there have been several other incidents in the past where the bodies of Christian converts from tribal communities have been exhumed. In October 2021, animists in Gumadpal village in the Bastar district of Chhattisgarh forced the widow and brother of Laxman Markam, a tribal Christian convert, to exhume his body that was buried in their relative’s land.
On 10 November 2022, members of the Sarv Adivasi Samaj group forced the exhumation of the body of a man named Naresh Ram who had converted to Christianity and who had been buried the day before. The family had already obtained the death certificate, however, with the alleged help of several local police officials, members of the community carried out a post-mortem and buried the body elsewhere.
CSW sources report that the families are unsure why post-mortems were carried out on Ms Sori and Mr Ram. In both cases, complaints have been filed by the families, however a First Information Reports (FIR), which is required for the police to open an investigation, has only been registered in Mr Ram’s case.
CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: “CSW expresses our heartfelt condolences to these bereaved families who have faced the injustice of having their loved ones exhumed against their wills, and while they are still in mourning. We urge the authorities to investigate and prosecute those responsible for these deeply disturbing acts, including any police officers who may be complicit. A person’s right to change their religion or belief, as enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which the government of India is party, must be upheld, and the authorities must take steps to promote understanding of the right to freedom of religion or belief and peaceful co-existence between members of different religion or belief groups in the communities concerned.”