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Children's Bible school stopped by Hindu nationalists in India

by Cara Bentley

Palavanatham village in Tamil Nadu was hosting a church-run club for the holidays for around 50 children which, according to the school's organiser, John Madhavan, was disrupted when two men trespassed on the property and demanded that the programme be stopped.

Reportedly, the men were overbearing and sharply questioned the children about their caste. Despite assurances by the organisers that the children were there at the consent of their parents, the two men continued to threaten everyone present and prevented anyone from leaving the premises while they alerted the police.

Mr Madhvan also said that the men are known to have threatened members of the church over the past year. No one was injured but the moment was described as "religious intolerance and intimidation" by Nehemiah Christie from the Synod of Pentecostal Churches. 

The school was due to run until the end of this week but was cancelled after the incident. 

Steven Selvaraj, South Asia team leader for the Christian freedom charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide told Premier: "While the session was taking place, two men actually had stormed into the session and properly interrupted the session and stopped the teaching and the singing"

He explained: "There's been a political vacuum in South India...Tamil Nadu is one of the few countries that the RSS and the BJP have not had government there."

The RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) are a Hindu ideological group which Selvaraj said "espouses far right militant national Hinduism", while the BJP is the governing party in India and "operates under the RSS" as their political arm, he said. 

Tamil Nadu is a common battle ground for Hindu militants to try to get into the political and social make-up, although traditionally it has been liberal towards religious liberty: "Particularly in the south, Christians have had the freedom to practise their religion for a very long time but we've seen a shift in the mood, in the pulse, of social and religious freedom."

Steven said things had changed there: "Christians are seen as a threat because of the teachings and Christian teachings and often Christian teachings are equated with western influence."

He added that Christians could pray: "that the state government of India would be assertive and would be clear and would be deter to bring those fringe groups to account and be accountable for their actions and also to pray that the churches will be strong and they will not be moved by what is taking place,

"When the church keeps at what it's doing - carrying on the message of Christ - they should not be shaken."

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