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World News

India: Hindu nationalists disrupt prayer meeting

by Heather Preston

A prayer meeting of 250 pastors and their families was disrupted by Hindu nationalists in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu last week.

Eight hard line Hindus stormed a devotional gathering at a Christian home in Pogulur village on 18th January, threatening believers and blocking them from leaving the building with their vehicles.

According to religious freedom charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), the perpetrators demanded to see the leader and insisted that the pastors explain the purpose of their meeting. 

Witnesses at the incident claim the intruders wanted to know if the group had legal permission to conduct the meeting. 

Freedom of religion in India is a fundamental right guaranteed by Article 25-28 of the Constitution of India and every citizen has a right to practice and promote their religion peacefully.

When the Christians explained it was their right to meet and pray and no legal requirement was needed to hold a religious meeting in a private property they were met with further harassment from the extremists.

Pastor Joshua, who attended the meeting, told CSW the men were extremely foul-mouthed and offensive, calling the Christians "pariah dogs who take money from white people without any shame.

The perpetrators fled when police arrived at the scene according to local sources.

Persecution towards Christians has intensified in the Hindu majority country in recent years.

According to research from religious freedom charity Open Doors 1,445 physical attacks and death threats were reported against Christians in the past year.

Human rights defender Nehemiah Christie is based in Tamil Nadu state.

He has warned targeted discrimination, harassment and attacks on Christians have become a "routine feature all across the state". 

Speaking to CSW about the incident, he said: "State neglect and police complicity and inaction has become almost endemic as far as dealing with violations of these sort is concerned. Opposition to Christian activity often takes place during private home prayer meetings and church services or while Christian tracts are being distributed, leaving the community in state of trepidation, although Article 25 of the Constitution of India guarantees freedom to freely profess, practice and propagate religion."

CSW's chief executive Mervyn Thomas has said he is "deeply troubled" by the lack of action by authorities which "emboldens non-state actors like these men to take the law into their own hands". 

He continued: "Such encroachments into people's private spaces should not be happening in a country which is proud to be considered the largest democracy in the world. The right to gather as a community with others to manifest one's religion is fundamental to freedom of religion or belief, a right guaranteed under India's constitution and the international covenants to which it is party. We urge the police to be more proactive in ending the impunity which encourages this lawless behaviour."

India is ranked number ten on the Open Doors 2020 World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most extreme oppression for their faith.

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