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Village Leader Seeks to Demolish House Church

November 2 (Compass Direct News) – The high court of the western state of Gujarat on Monday (November 6) will hear a complaint by tribal Christians of Surat district that their village head has ordered them to demolish their house church.

Vasantbhai Somabhai Chaudhary, head of Hindoliya village in Surat district’s Bardoli Taluka area, on October 4 sent a notice to Rameshbhai Chaudhary accusing him of forcible conversion and ordering him to demolish his house where Christians meet for prayer, Bible study and worship. Along with the complaint against the village chief, Rameshbhai Chaudhary also accuses local police of harassing him.

At a hearing on October 12, Justice S.R. Brahmbhatt asked the police department to inform the court should the Christian complainants be subjected to further harassment from local police and villagers in Hindoliya village.

Rameshbhai Chaudhary and a guest, Bipin Joseph Mehta, a non-resident Indian from the United Kingdom, on October 6 filed a complaint in the high court against the Bardoli police station and the village head of Hindoliya after the police refused to file their complaint, according to Samson Christian, joint secretary of the All India Christian Council (AICC).

The AICC leader explained that the trouble started on September 28, when two officers of the Bardoli police station barged into Rameshbhai Chaudhary’s house during a Christian meeting. The police arbitrarily searched the house to see if any “conversion activity” was taking place, Christian told Compass.

Those attending the four-day meeting, which started on September 26, were Rameshbhai Chaudhary, Mehta, another guest from Italy (a Catholic identified only as Luigi), and 28 local tribal Christians. After the meeting was over, the policemen took Mehta and Luigi to the police station; there Hindu extremists and some media representatives also arrived.

A police inspector identified only as Chavda accused the two visiting Christians of coming to India to convert Hindus. He also threatened that he would stop them from leaving the country, Christian said, and confiscated their passports.

The extremists and reporters interrogated the Christians and took their pictures before allowing them to leave the police station, he added.

Conversion ‘Deplorable’

The following day (September 29), local newspapers repeated the accusation of forcible conversion against the two visiting Christians, but Mehta and Luigi attended a meeting at Rameshbhai Chaudhary’s house as scheduled. At about noon, inspector Chavda and other officers stormed the meeting – ordering Mehta and Luigi to stand on a table – and searched through all literature in the house, said Christian.

“Soon after this, about 15 people, including extremists and reporters, also arrived and told the tribal Christians that their conversion out of Hinduism was deplorable,” Christian said. “They also threatened them.”

Police again took the two Christians to the police station, where they told them that they should not leave the village without permission. The extremists also followed them to the station and again threatened them, Christian said.

The inspector called the 28 tribal Christians to the police station and took their statements, “which created a sense of insecurity among them,” he said.

After the intervention of the AICC, the inspector returned the passports to Mehta and Luigi on October 2.

“AICC demands legal action against the police officials who harassed the Christians of Hindoliya village and the village head who ordered demolition of the house church,” Christian said.

He added that apparently the minority Christian community has become the target of the Bharatiya Janata Party government in Gujarat, which is preparing to incite Hindu sentiment against Christians before state assembly elections in November 2007.