Tamil Nadu authorities stop worship in ten Protestant churches

Religious services were stopped following complaints by Hindu extremist groups, who threaten to close another 20 places of worship. The police have gone along with the radicals. Christians have called on the State’s Internal Affairs Minister for help.

Chennai (AsiaNews/Agencies) – State authorities of Tamil Nadu have ordered ten Protestant churches in Coimbatore District to discontinue worship services, this according to Rev Johnson Sathyanathan, president of the local Synod Pentecostal Churches.

The clergyman blames the interruption of prayers on Hindu extremist groups, who claim that Christian places of worship have not been authorised by the Collector's Office.

Hindu radicals have also threatened to file charges against 20 other Protestant churches. If they too are closed, worship services for the local Christian community would cease entirely.

This “is 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," Rev Sathyanathan said. "The time to get such approvals can stretch from a year and a half to many years."

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist paramilitary group, and Hanuman Sena, a recently created radical group, are behind the complaints.

Indian Human rights groups have increasingly complained about growing restrictions on religious freedom since Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.

Ten churches "have been affected in the last two months,” Rev Sathyanathan said. However, “people never had any trouble with these churches before. Their pastors have been ministering for many years now.”

The clergyman explained that last week a Christian delegation met with the minister of Internal Affairs of Tamil Nadu who called on the deputy superintendent of police and the local member of the Legislative Assembly for Sulur to look into the matter and take steps to ensure that worship services can resume.

Six of the affected churches are located in the Sulur area. The seventh church, that of the Assemblies of God Church in Thennampalayam, was targeted by the RSS during the summer. The eighth church, located in Myleripalaya and led by Rev Solomon Raja, was closed by police after the Hanuman Sena filed a complaint.

The ninth church, not an actual church but a small hall in Mathampalayam, was attacked on 15 October by some 25 RSS members. No religious services have been possible ever since. Lastly, the tenth church, in Kalampalayam, was attacked by 20 RSS nationalists, who ordered the local pastor, Rev Charles, to stop services until he got a permit from the Collector’s Office.

Local Christians have tried repeatedly to resolve the situation, Rev Sathyanathan said. On 11 October, they presented a memorandum to the police superintendent asking for protection and the reopening of churches, but he flatly refused any support or action.

Instead, police “said that they could do nothing about it,” the head of the Pentecostal Synod said, blaming Christians for creating “unnecessary trouble when we should go ahead and get legal permission for our churches.”

As Christians, he added, "We wanted to organise a day of silent protest on 21 October, but we were denied permission.”

Since then, Christians are still waiting for a response from Internal Affairs Ministry.