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World News

Tensions over road expansion lead to violence at Methodist church in India

by Tola Mbakwe

A 50-year-old Methodist church in India’s Telangana State has been vandalised following a dispute between villagers and church members over the extension of a road.

District Superintendent of the Methodist Church Rev Vijay Rao told religious persecution watchdog CSW (Christian Solidarity Worldwide) that the conflict began when the village head and local authorities instructed workers from the Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority to extend a cement road by eight feet into the church compound.

Approximately 30 Christians present at the time refused permission for this encroachment and requested that the workers wait for church leaders to arrive for discussions.

While awaiting their arrival, over 200 villagers in Janwada village, Rangareddy district gathered outside the church and started arguing with the Christians. The villagers claimed that the road belonged to the government, while the Christians maintained that they legally owned the land.

According to CSW, the church has all relevant planning and building permissions, but villagers have been demanding road widening and encroachment into church compound for years.

Around 8pm on 13 February, a mob forcibly entered the compound and began throwing stones and bricks at the church building. Some reportedly chanted 'Jai Shri Ram', a Hindu chant often used by Hindu nationalists, while vandalising the church. Fourteen Christians were admitted to hospital after being injured in the incident.

In response, local police dispersed the mob and banned gatherings of four or more people until 21 February.

By 23 February, twelve people had been arrested in connection with the attack. However, following a counter complaint filed by some villagers alleging that Christians instigated the violence, five Christians were also arrested.

Mervyn Thomas, CSW’s founder, said the incident is extremely concerning.

“While we are pleased to see that the authorities have made some effort to ensure that justice is served in this case, CSW is nonetheless highly concerned and the growing frequency with which serious incidents of communal violence are taking place in multiple states across India,” he said.

“We call on the authorities in Janwada to ensure that the Methodist church receives reparations for the damage done to its buildings and the injuries received by several church members, and to bring all those responsible for this attack to justice.”

India is number eleven on Open Doors’ World Watch List which ranks the world’s top 50 places where Christians face the most persecution.

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