ucanews.com reporter, New Delhi
Updated: April 16, 2019 07:34 AM GMT
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is welcomed by BJP workers during a rally in Raipur in Chhattisgarh state on April 12. Christians say attacks on them have increased since Adityanath came to power. (Photo by IANS)
The High Court in India’s Uttar Pradesh state has directed its pro-Hindu party-led government to reopen a church that was closed seven months ago by state officials.
Allahabad High Court on April 12 ordered the state to reopen the church in Siddharth Nagar district and provide protection to Pastor Satyen Biswakarma and his community in conducting prayers.
The church has been closed since Sept. 16 last year after some people claiming to be working for government intelligence services barged into the church and recorded a prayer service.
Soon after recording the video, government officials asked the pastor not to conduct prayers inside the church until the government granted permission.
Christian leaders say attacks against them have increased since March 2017 when the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won state elections and Hindu monk turned politician Yogi Adityanath become state chief minister.
Lawyers of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a faith-based legal advocacy organization, challenged the officials’ order at Allahabad High Court.
“The court’s order is a welcome stop towards protecting the rights of all religious minorities to be able to freely practice and profess their faith,” said ADF’s India director Tehmina Arora.
She said state machinery was being misused to harass the Christian community in a clear violation of the fundamental freedoms protected in India’s constitution such as freedom of religion and expression and equality before the law.
“The court has protected the idea of India as outlined in the constitution. No one should be targeted for their faith,” she said.
Rights activist Praveen Pratab said the court order is “a tight slap on the faces” of those who want to turn India into a Hindu-only nation, rendering Indian Christians and Muslims as second-class citizens.
“Closing down churches and objecting to Muslims’ congregational prayers were among the attempts made to attack India’s integrity and secular character,” Pratab told ucanews.com.
“The court has instilled new life into the hopes of minorities that India could again be their country as it used to be and fanatic groups cannot have their heyday forever.”
Jenis Francis, a prominent educationalist, said Hindu groups have stepped up their allegations and actions against Christians in Uttar Pradesh since Adityanath came to power.
According to ADF, more than 120 incidents of violence were recorded against Christians in Uttar Pradesh in the first three months of 2019.
Many political pundits project 46-year-old Adityanath as the BJP’s new face in India. Besides heading the country’s most populous state of 200 million people, he is also chief priest of the state's famed Gorakhnath (Shiva) Temple in Gorakhpur.
Known for his hard-line views on the Hindu religion and practices, the leader also faces 18 criminal cases including criminal intimidation and rioting.
The tiny community of Christians in Uttar Pradesh form just 0.18 percent of the state’s population. Hindus dominate at 79 percent, followed by Muslims at 19 percent.