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Indian Christians seek end to police checks on churches

Police in northeastern Assam state have been keeping an eye on churches and their activities since December 2022
Indian Catholics pray at the Christ the King festival procession in New Delhi on Nov. 20, 2022.

Indian Catholics pray at the Christ the King festival procession in New Delhi on Nov. 20, 2022. (Photo supplied)

Published: May 15, 2024 11:08 AM GMT
Updated: May 15, 2024 11:13 AM GMT

A Christian forum in India's northeastern Assam state has appealed to the district authorities to stop a police survey of churches, which has caused panic among community members.

The United Christian Forum (UCF), in its May 14 memorandum, objected to the “unprecedented random collection of data of churches and their adherents” by police over the past week in Diphu, the headquarters of Karbi Anglong district in Assam state.

The memorandum addressed to District Commissioner Madhumita Bhagawati alleged that uniformed policemen were “barging” into church premises “without prior intimation and official instruction.”

The forum said the policemen were taking photographs and posing queries to members of the churches.

This reminded the Christians of the clandestine survey by police in December 2022 to gather details of Christians, their churches, institutions, and alleged religious conversions, it added.

However, the state’s Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had disowned the exercise by police when Christian leaders objected to it.

An official clarification was issued in June 2023 that the order to conduct such a survey was issued inadvertently, and no exercise of this kind will be undertaken without prior information and proper official order.

The latest survey “has caused panic and a fear psychosis among our people,” said UCF President Reverend Solomon Rongpi.

“Moreover, holy shrines and worship places are meant for public worship and prayer and their sanctity must be highly honored by all,” he added.

The memorandum urged Bhagawati to "immediately call off this exercise in the interest of public peace."

Meanwhile, the district police have clarified in a press statement that the survey is part of an effort "to ensure safety and security" of Christian institutions.

The instruction was issued to all districts after the Assam Catholic Educational Trust wrote to the state’s director general of police expressing concern over the safety of Christian institutions and personnel in February, it said.

Assam Christian Forum spokesperson Allen Brooks said the safety concerns arose after a Hindu group on Feb. 7 demanded the removal of all Christian symbols from missionary schools and told Catholic priests and religious to wear traditional Indian attires instead of religious habits.

“Instead of booking the culprits, the police are entering churches to collect data on Christians,” he said.

The Hindu group had set a 15-day deadline for missionary schools to comply with its demands or face legal action. Christian institutions ignored the deadline. However, the group has taken no legal action so far.

Christians comprise 3.74 percent of the state’s 31 million people, higher than the national average of 2.3 percent.

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