03/13/2021 India (International Christian Concern) – Last month, a house church in India’s Telangana state was shut down after radical Hindu nationalists put pressure on police and the church’s landlord. To justify the closure of the church, local authorities used a state ordinance that forbids the propagation of non-Hindu faiths in places designated temple towns.
On February 28, a mob of radical Hindu nationalists stopped a worship service being led by Pastor K. Samuel in Dharmapuri, located in Telangana. As the nationalists flooded into the rented house, they shouted anti-Christian slogans and used abusive language.
Members of the mob confronted Pastor Samuel and threatened him with grave consequences if he did not close the church. Later, members of the same mob confronted Pastor Samuel’s landlord and pressured him into evicting Pastor Samuel.
“I didn’t know where to turn for help,” Pastor Samuel told International Christian Concern (ICC). “Even police have told me that I cannot hold prayers in Dharmapuri. I have been here for the last five years and there has been no issue. Now the landlord has told me to vacate and I am searching for a new place. I am not sure if I can even hold prayers anymore.”
In 2007, the state government promulgated G.O. 746 which prohibits the propagation of religions other than traditional religions in what the ordinance designates temple towns. This order originally covered Tirupathi, the location of the largest Hindu temple in the Telugu-speaking states, but was later extended to cover other temple towns such as Dharmapuri.
Across Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, India’s largest Telugu-speaking states, radical Hindu nationalists use the temple town rule to close down churches and harass Christians. In 2021, Christians in these states have reported a surge in incidents of persecution and intimidation.
“This is the first time we are feeling the heat of religious politics in the state,” a Christian leader who wished to remain anonymous told ICC. “It is very unfortunate that there has been mistrust planted in the general public on religious lines.”