A Christian man in central India has received a notice from local authorities stating that his family "must not conduct any Christian congregational activity" in their home, such as a Bible study, otherwise a "stringent action" will be taken against him.
"With effect from the moment you receive this notice, you must not conduct any Christian congregational activity," reads the notice sent to Mahendra Nagdeve, who lives in the Lanji area of Balaghat District in Madhya Pradesh state and has been inviting Christian friends for Bible study and prayer for 13 years, according to Morning Star News.
"No officials visited my house to check if it is a house or church," the 45-year-old Christian convert, father of three, was quoted as saying. "I have been paying house tax, electricity and water bills promptly. Unless for the purpose of issuing the bills and collecting any payments, the municipal employees had never contacted me, they never had an objection."
The chief officer of the Balaghat municipal council, Chandra Kisore Bawre, said "neighbors" had complained.
"The problem is when people apply for permission to construct a building, they don't disclose the purpose, and we grant permission to only construct a house to live in it, but when the neighbors come to us with complaints, we must take action," Bawre was quoted as saying.
The official acknowledged that law in India provides for religious freedom, but added, "(I) was under the pressure by some people. I issued the notice, but I did not take any action as yet. I will look into the matter soon."
Nagdeve said he has submitted a response to city officials stating it's his own house where he lives with his family, and that he had been praying peacefully in this house for 13 years. "Even my friends and relatives join us and we pray together."
Nagdeve's wife uses the prayer hall space in the house to pray with women as a sisters meeting, and some families also gather with them to study the Bible.
"Constitutional courts have issued judgments in the past clearly saying that if any gathering is happening inside a person's home for any Christian activity, they need not take any permission from anyone, because after the meeting that particular house will be used as a house," an attorney, who was not identified, was quoted as saying.
Christian persecution has steeply risen in India since the Hindu rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party won the general election in 2014.
The first quarter of 2017 saw 248 incidents of persecution, and by the end of June, the number grew to 410, a recent report by Open Doors said, noting that a total of 441 incidents were reported in all of 2016.
"When the Christians are beaten by the extremists, they receive injuries mostly on their heads or their vital body parts," a local partner of Open Doors was quoted as saying in the report. "The assaulters do not care if the person dies in the attack. They know that they will not be punished because the government (and hence the judiciary) will take their side. In most of the cases the assaulters go unpunished."