On 31 December 2020, Sardar Vaskale had planned to host a family get-together at his home in Dewada village, in Madhya Pradesh’s Barwani district, to ring in the arrival of a new year. His relatives, who reside in other villages in the state, had arrived a day early to join the New Year’s eve celebrations. The anticipation of the event was cut short on the afternoon of 31 December, when 25-30 men affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and other Hindu groups barged into Vaskale’s home, abusing them and accusing him and his family members—who belong to the Bhilala Adivasi community—of organising a religious conversion programme. Vaskale, and most of his family, are Christian, and he categorically denied that any conversion programme had happened at his house. Vaskale told me that in the attack the RSS members pushed Lila Bai, a 25-year-old pregnant woman, whose baby died on the same day.
Despite Rakesh Alawe, Lila Bai’s husband, filing a complaint at the Thikri police station, no FIR was registered. When I spoke to him on 10 February, Vaskale told me that the police have still failed to register an FIR against Alawe’s complaint. While the police have collected witness statements of several people, the conclusion they seem to have drawn seems to ignore the statements of Vaskale or his family. Instead, their conclusions seem to be entirely based on the statement of the accused attackers. A police official I spoke to also parroted allegations of the attackers that Vaskale was converting others to Christianity.
“At around 2.30 pm, we were sitting in my house when they came in,” Vaskale told me. “I had four guests. The mob came in making a lot of noise. The women came outside to see what the commotion was. Then the mob started attacking us all of a sudden and snatched mobile phones from the women and from myself.” He alleged that the sarpanch of Khurampura, the neighbouring village, was also among the attackers. “Mangal, the sarpanch, told me to stay silent, and that everyone is carrying weapons. ‘Bullets will be fired,’ he said,” Vaskale told me. “I said, ‘Okay, sir,’ but he started beating me as well.” Vaskale reiterated that the sarpanch warned him twice that the men were carrying weapons. “We were threatened that if we go to the police station and if proceedings are initiated against them, we will be killed,” he added.
“They were saying, ‘You Bhiladas refuse to learn.’ Addressing the women, they said, ‘Why are you talking in Hindi? You are Bhiladas.” An activist from the region told me that Bhilada is a slur used to denigrate members of the Bhil community. Vaskale further alleged that the attackers sexually harassed the girls. He told me he recognised four or five men, including Khurampura’s sarpanch, who were part of the mob.
Among Vaskale’s relatives who were guests at his home was Lila, who was eight months pregnant. “When Lila Bai came out, even she was beaten up and she fell on her stomach. She felt dizzy,” he said. Vaskale told me that following the attack Lila was taken to his aunt, Thavli Bai’s, house which is about hundred metres away. Another relative, called Lal Singh, called for an ambulance, Vaskale told me. Before Lila could be admitted to the nearest government hospital in Thikri village, she delivered a stillborn baby in the ambulance. The baby was declared brought dead at the hospital.