Christians in India say police officer who burned down their church is threatening to kill them

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Christians in India’s central state of Chhattisgarh are accusing authorities of not taking action against a police officer who burned down their house church building and threatened to arrest them in a fabricated case and kill them if they continued to hold worship services.

The house church belonging to a tribal (aboriginal) Christian, Kadti Gurva from Kistaram village in Sukma district’s Konta area, was burned down by a police officer identified as Sub-Inspector Bhavesh Shende from the Kistaram police station in February, but no action has been taken against the officer, Morning Star News reported this week.

On Feb. 3, the officer barged into the church during a worship service and warned them against gathering for prayer and worship, and threatened to charge them with being communist “Naxalite” or Maoist rebels.

A day later, the officer summoned Gurva and a church member named Turram Kanna to the police station where he ordered them to burn down their church. The two Christians refused.

“We refused to burn the church,” they stated in a complaint sent to the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum. “And when we refused to do anything of that sort, he abused us in filthy language and threatened to kill us. He said that he will falsely book us … and send us to jail.”

On Feb. 5, the officer again summoned the two Christians and told them he had initiated the burning down of their church structure. “He told us that he has got our worship place burned and warned us that we must not do such a thing again [meeting for prayer or worship], or else he will arrest us and send us to jail,” the complaint says.

Two days later, Chhattisgarh Christian Forum President Arun Pannalal and church leaders met with the Chhattisgarh Director General of Police and submitted their complaint, requesting an inquiry and dismissal of Shende for burning the church.

As of Saturday, no action had been taken against officer Shinde.

“Government is hand-in-glove with the perpetrators of violence,” Pannalal was quoted as saying. “The police in Chhattisgarh have also been saffronized [color symbolic of Hindu nationalism]. Because the government is not taking proper action, they [perpetrators] are encouraged to persecute the Christians.”

Christians make up only 2.3% of India’s population and Hindus comprise about 80%. Hindu nationalists claim that Christians “force” or give financial benefits to Hindus to convert them to Christianity.

According to a report by the United Christian Forum, 2021 was the “most violent year” for the country’s Christian population, which recorded at least 486 violent incidents of persecution last year.

The UCF attributed the high number of attacks to mobs that target Christians, brutally assault them, and then file false claims of "illegal" conversions. 

Police registered formal complaints in only 34 of the 486 cases, according to the UCF.

“Often communal sloganeering is witnessed outside police stations, where the police stand as mute spectators,” the UCF report states.

“Hindu extremists believe that all Indians should be Hindus and that the country should be rid of Christianity and Islam,” an Open Doors fact sheet explains. “They use extensive violence to achieve this goal, particularly targeting Christians from a Hindu background. Christians are accused of following a ‘foreign faith’ and blamed for bad luck in their communities.”

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