Opposition where previously none existed.
By Our Southern India Correspondent
HYDERABAD, India, March 7, 2019 (Morning Star News) – Churches in Tamil Nadu, India that had never experienced opposition now find Hindu extremists forcing them out of their places of worship, sources said.
In one case Hindu extremists called praying women prostitutes and threatened to kill them; in another case near Chennai, the state capital, police went door-to-door with a radical Hindu telling people not to meet for worship; in a third case, the owner of the property where the church meets ordered them to vacate after opponents set a fire inside.
In Vairichettipalayam village, Tiruchirappalli District, a mob of more than 25 Hindu villagers led by area Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders on Feb. 17 burst into a Christian’s home during an evening Bible study and prayer time where about 20 women and the pastor were meeting. Led by BJP leaders identified only as Ramesh and Ramachandran, the intruders told them they must vacate the place, Pastor Raju, who goes by a single name, told Morning Star News.
Asking who had given them permission to hold a Christian meeting, the BJP leaders and their aides told the Christians the house would be locked and they must leave immediately, he said.
“We tried to make him understand that we had been gathering as a house church for the past 15 years, and that we had not violated any law,” Pastor Raju told Morning Star News. “I said, ‘Why should we vacate?’”
The radical Hindus then began shouting obscenities at them, he said.
“One after the other, Ramachandran and his group started shouting at Christian women, ‘Have your husbands left you to prostitution, that you are following this pastor’s instructions? Today, you are calling him brother and he is sweetly calling you sister – soon he will make you all mother,’” he said. “When one sister tried to videotape all this, they started threatening us that we will be killed…the situation was turning to be out of control.”
One of the Christians managed to call the Upiliyapuram police station, and officers arrived and restored order, he said. The Christians filed a complaint on Feb. 19 and sent a copy to higher police officials, but police have not registered a First Information Report (FIR), he said.
On Feb. 24, one of Ramachandran’s close aides, identified as Ravi, followed the Christians on their way to worship and monitored the service, leaving before they could apprehend him, the pastor said.
“Since the church members are aware that they are keeping a close watch on us, they are too frightened to attend the services,” Pasor Raju said. “It is our own property, and we never faced such opposition in the past 15 years since we dedicated a part of our house for prayer services.”
The same mob disrupted another prayer service less than two miles away on Feb. 17, he added.
Near Chennai in the Thiruneermalai area, the founder of the Hindu Nationalist Party (Hindu Makkal Katchi) on Feb. 13 went door-to-door admonishing area residents to stop attending Christian worship, sources said.
The Hindu nationalist leader, Arjun Sampath, was accompanied by a female police officer, they said.
The previous week, Sampath sent a mob of about 40 Hindus to a house church downhill from a Hindu temple, and they warned the pastor to vacate the place that served as both his residence and worship site, the pastor said.
“They told me that there should not be any Christian prayers in the area,” Pastor Vetri, who goes by a single name, told Morning Star News. “I told them that we had been having peaceful prayer services for past 12 years, and that it is not possible to vacate.”
He later received legal notices falsely claiming that the property belonged to the Hindu temple, and that there can be no Christian occupants or church activities in the area, he said.
“The property owner gave in to the pressure from police and the Hindu Makkal Katchi and asked us to vacate the place,” he said. “We shifted to the town now and are continuing to assemble for prayers.”
In May 2018 the church’s senior pastor, C. Swamidas, also received legal notices after Hindu extremists disrupted prayer services in his newly constructed building in the Thirupachur area of Thiruvallur District, Pastor Vetri said. The senior pastor had spent US$42,253.50 on the construction.
The case is still pending in court, and the property has been sealed. The Christians rent a banquet hall every week for Sunday service, Pastor Vetri said.
In another area of Tamil Nadu in July 2017, Hindu Makkal Katchi members used steel rods and a butcher’s knife to attack a father-son pastoral team.
The targeting of house churches in Tamil Nadu seems to be politically motivated, said Nehemiah Christie, Tamil Nadu coordinator for Alliance Defending Freedom-India.
“Even the districts and villages where Christians had peaceful prayer services for a decade or more are now under the radar of Hindu extremist violence,” he said. “Since the police officials, bureaucrats are paying deaf ear to the atrocities against minorities, the mobocracy is being carried out fearlessly. It is sad to see top-notch politicians are encouraging their followers to attack and create that psychosis of fear solely for their political gains by creating communal disharmony.”
After repeated threats from Hindu extremists in Musiri village, Tiruchirappalli District, pastor Edwin Joseph and other Christians arrived early for a worship service on Feb. 8 and saw flames inside their church building.
“At around 4:50 in the morning, we saw burning fire inside the church,” Pastor Joseph said.
The front entrance was locked, but in the back of the structure they noticed the smell of kerosene in an open space between the metal roof and the six-foot high, hollow block wall, he said.
“From the foul smell of kerosene oil all around and a long wooden stick lying there, we came to know that a cloth tied to the wooden stick was dipped in the fuel and was thrown inside through the open space, causing the fire,” Pastor Joseph said.
Musical equipment, a computer and a television were damaged, he said. He and his wife doused the fire with buckets of water, and then they reported the fire to police, who inspected the site. That evening, the pastor filed a complaint.
“For the past couple of months we had been receiving threats from [Hindu extremist] Hindu Munnani and informed the police about it in our petition, but police took it lightly and have not mentioned their names as suspects in the FIR,” Pastor Joseph said.
About three weeks before the Feb. 8 fire, the pastor had reported to police that a Hindu Munnani member had stolen his motorbike.
“I had seen the Hindu Munnani activist riding my bike and told the police that I suspect he must have stolen it,” he said. “I went to his house along with the police, and we learned that it is my bike.”
Police returned the motorbike to the pastor, he said.
“But he kept sending me threats that I must stop church services or face severe consequences,” Pastor Joseph said.
The congregation continues to meet in the hall, but the property owner has told them to vacate the place soon, he said, adding, “We do not have sufficient funds to purchase a piece of land.”
“Although the church is attended by at least 150 members on Sundays, they are all workers who depend on daily wages to make ends meet,” he said. “We requested two months more from the landlord and are praying that the Lord makes a way.”
India is ranked 10th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The country was 31st in 2013 but its position has been worse each year since Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.