India’s Informal Churches Caught in the Crosshairs
By ICC’s India Correspondent
07/26/2019 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – “For the first time in 45 years, I feel like I don’t have the right to live as a Christian in my own country,” Pastor Sheeja Thomas, a house church leader in Hyderabad, India, told International Christian Concern (ICC). Pastor Thomas made this observation as attacks on unregistered house churches across India continue to take place with greater frequency and severity. This trend also has many Indian Christians concerned about the future of their ability to worship freely.
Prior to her interview with ICC, one of the house churches Pastor Thomas leads was attacked by Hindu radicals three Sundays in a row. After the third attack, local authorities finally shut down the house church altogether.
Pastor Thomas is a widow and a mother of two children. Over the course of 13 years of ministry, she has established several unregistered house churches in and around Hyderabad.
“I have been enduring persecution for the entire 13 years of my ministry,” Pastor Thomas explained to ICC. “But what is happening now is unprecedented. Me and my daughter had to sit in the police station as criminals while the people who attacked the Sunday worship service enjoyed the support of the police officers right in front of our eyes.”
In addition to having her house church closed down and being harassed, beaten, and arrested, Pastor Thomas was kicked out of her rented home by her landlord. “Due to pressure from the Hindu radicals, my landlord asked me to vacate the house,” Pastor Thomas said. “When I went on searching for a new rented place I was told by seven different Hindu landlords that they don’t want to rent to me because I am a Christian.”
Pastor Thomas and her family continue to search for a new place to call home. In addition, the 20 Christians who used to gather for worship in Pastor Thomas’ home anxiously await news of a new space where they can worship together. However, the prospect of this coming true appears very slim.
“For the first time in 45 years, I feel like I don’t have the right to live as a Christian in my own country.”
In a similar but separate incident, Pastor Prasad and his congregation were also brutally attacked by Hindu radicals as they worshiped at an unregistered house church in Bogaram village, located approximately 20 miles east of Hyderabad. Fifteen Christians gathered at Pastor Prasad’s house on June 23 when the attack took place.
“This is not the first time I was attacked,” Pastor Prasad told ICC. “I have been attacked five times in the last two years. However, the latest attack had more serious consequences.”
According to Pastor Prasad, five Hindu radicals stormed his house while the Sunday worship service was in progress. The radicals started to beat everyone, including him. The radicals did not exclude women and children from the beating and severely injured several people.
Similar to Pastor Thomas’s situation, Pastor Prasad’s landlord demanded that he leave their property within two months due to pressure from Hindu radicals.
“We don’t know whether this house church community will continue in the village,” Prasad said. “The Hindu radicals are determined not to allow any church or Christian worship in the village. However, I am determined to stay on because God called me to this place to proclaim his love to his people.”
Across India, unregistered house churches account for a considerable portion of the Indian Church, especially in rural areas. As the accounts of Pastor Thomas and Pastor Prasad exemplify, these churches are under serious attack. Will India’s government protect these Christians’ Article 25 religious freedom rights and protect their places of worship from attack and sudden closure? Or will the government continue to give a free hand to Hindu radicals seeking to drive Christianity out of India?
For interviews, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: firstname.lastname@example.org