Indian Christians fight local government rules on priests

Some villages in Chhattisgarh state have barred Christian priests from entering
ucanews.com reporter, Bhopal
India
November 19, 2015
Church leaders in eastern India's Chhattisgarh state are struggling against a local law that helps Hindu hard-liners stop Christian priests from setting foot in certain villages.

"The atmosphere in the state is not very conducive for Christians anymore," said Father Abraham Kannampala, vicar general of Jagdalpur Diocese. "We feel threatened as we are a small minority."

In the latest incident, a Pentecostal gathering in Kohkameta village of Baster district was attacked on Nov. 15. Assailants dragged worshippers from the church, beat them with sticks and demanded that they reconvert to Hinduism, witnesses reported.

Baster district has faced increasing anti-Christian violence for almost a year, after some Hindu groups sought to ban Christian priests from entering villages by passing resolutions in village bodies.

They attach legitimacy to such resolutions by saying that state legislation for village-level governments has banned "non-Hindu religious propaganda, prayers and speeches in villages."

The Chhattisgarh Christian Forum last year challenged the clause in the state High Court, asking that it be struck down because it violates the Indian Constitution, which allows citizens the freedom to believe and propagate a religion of choice.

The High Court, while awaiting the state response, said Oct. 6 that the law should not interfere with the fundamental rights of any citizen to "preach and propagate" his or her faith.

Despite the court order, villages continue to ban priests, Arun Pannalal, the Christian forum president told ucanews.com.

The court’s interim order granted three weeks more for the state to respond to the challenge. A final verdict on the validity of the clause can come only after hearing from the state.

The state government, run by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, is offering tacit support to hard-line Hindu groups to enact laws to restrain the entry of Christians to these villages, according to Pannalal.

Bishop Patras Minj of Ambikapur told ucanews.com that the peaceful environment in the state is damaged by the growing attacks on Christians. Missionaries are working under "tremendous fear" after the right-wing Hindu groups began to unleash a reign of terror.

Two priests from his diocese are in jail on fabricated sexual offences against children, he said. In Raipur diocese, a nun was gang raped in June.

Christians number less than 1 percent of the population in the Hindu-dominated state.

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