By ICC’s India Correspondent
12/22/2016 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Reports from the leaders of house churches in Tamil Nadu, a state in southern India, have dramatically increased. According to these house churches, legal harassment and assaults led by Hindu radicals have led to many house churches being closed down and local Christians fearing for the future of their community.
“What is going on in Coimbatore region against Christians is entirely different from what has been happening in other parts of the country,” Pastor Arul Das told International Christian Concern (ICC). “We are attacked legally, with false charges, and the police and revenue officials cooperate with [the radicals] to harass us.”
One method of harassment reported by local pastors includes radicals pressuring landlords into refusing to rent properties to house churches. This often leads to house churches being forced to look for other rental locations or close down entirely. According to Pastor Jeypal, Secretary of Coimbatore Pentecostal Pastors Fellowship (CPPF), more than 75% of the 1,200 churches in the region operate in rented properties and are therefore vulnerable to this sort of harassment.
Another form of harassment is local authorities requiring evidence of official authorization to operate a house church. Pastor Yesayan, who runs a house church in Thotiyanur, reported how he and his congregation were required several times to demonstrate proof of permission to hold services in his home. This is despite the fact that no permission is legally required to operate a house church in India.
Such harassment has led Pastor Yesayan to alter services to reduce the house church’s visibility. “We stopped using the musical instruments for Sunday worship,” said Pastor Yesayan. “We restrict ourselves to only clap our hands during the worship, as the sound of musical instruments might attract trouble and lead to closing down the church.”
Other local pastors have also reported that Hindu radicals interfere with their access to utilities, such as electricity, in order to harass house churches. Pastor P. William, a pastor from the Tirupur district, told ICC, “Hindu radicals came to my house and threatened me with abusive language, asking me to stop the worship in my house. Then they went and forced the local village leaders to give me a notice not to conduct worship service. They also told the electricity department to cut the power connection to my house. All of this harassment is just to stop me from conducting worship in my house.”
According to Pastor William, it has been an uphill battle to continue worship services in his house. He noted, “My case is one of many instances where a pastor may have to close down his house church.”
“The rise in persecution and the pressure on house churches in Tamil Nadu has to be seen in the context of the aggressive efforts of [Hindu radicals] to consolidate themselves in a state where earlier they hardly had any presence,” Dr. John Dayal, a Christian rights activist, told ICC.
“The state of Tamil Nadu has also been invoking discriminating laws to try close churches if there is an old or new Hindu temple in [the church’s] proximity,” Dr. Dayal went on to explain. “As long as radicals can point to a Hindu temple close to a house church, they have a strong case to obtain permission from government officials to shut down the church.”
As 2016 comes to a close, Christians in many parts of India find themselves under greater pressure from Hindu radicals. For the leaders of house churches in Tamil Nadu, the ongoing harassment and closing of many house churches is of great concern. Remember to pray for your persecuted brothers and sisters this holiday season and pray that 2017 may bring some relief.