Ten Protestant churches in Coimbatore district in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu have been ordered to stop their worship meetings, while Hindu nationalists want another 20 churches to be closed.
They claim the Christian places of worship have not been authorised by the Collector’s Office, the district’s magistrate office, according to Rev. Johnson Sathyanathan, president of the local Synod of Pentecostal Churches.
He told AsiaNews it was “a well-planned conspiracy against the Christian community, as the Hindu extremists know that it is not easy to approach the Collector’s Office for permits… The time to get such approvals can stretch from a year and a half to many years”.
Rev. Sathyanathan said the churches had been operating for years without any complaints.
On 11 October a group of local Christians presented their case to the police superintendent and requested protection and the reopening of their churches, but there was no follow-up.
Another delegation met with the local Minister of Internal Affairs of to discuss the issue but again there has been no response.
According to AsiaNews the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist organisation closely affiliated with the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and a new group, Hanuman Sena, are behind the complaints against the churches.
One of the five churches attacked on Palm Sunday was in Tamil Nadu’s Dindigul district. Government officials disrupted private prayers at the house of a man named Gunasekaran. The officials took video clips and pictures of people praying and then told them to stop. They also told them to ask permission from the District Collector before praying again in the house.
Meanwhile the secretary-general of the Indian Catholic Bishops’ Conference has reacted sharply to an editorial in a newspaper that advocated for India to become a Hindu nation.
“India is a secular country and it will also remain so. It was not born out of religion and we do not want it to turn it into some religion-based country,” Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas told Catholic news agency UCAN.
He said Indians have always stood for “tolerant and harmonious” coexistence of different religions. “One small fringe group like this doesn’t make the opinion of a nation. We are quite confident that this is not the view of majority of the Hindus,” he said.
Alphons Kannanthanam, a member of the BJP and the first Indian Christian in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet, said earlier in October that Christians are “safe” under the BJP-led government.
Modi, who used to work for the RSS and now leads the BJP, has denied that Christians and other minorities are persecuted in India. But in August, World Watch Monitor reported that Hindu nationalists were behind 99 per cent of violent assaults on Christians in the first half of 2017, with figures showing as many attacks in the first six months of 2017 as in all of 2016.