Indian Church Closed Down for Singing Too Loudly

The US-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned of three attacks earlier this month on Christians in Kerala, generally considered a safe-haven for Christians because of the large Christian minority there.

These attacks, which all took place within a week, are especially alarming because they mark the first time a church has been shut down by the local government in Kerala. In addition, Hindu extremists vandalised a Christian prayer centre and invaded a Pentecostal church, physically assaulting several of the attendees.

That this sort of violence would occur in the normally peaceful Kerala reveals the extent to which the xenophobic "Hindutva" ideology has infiltrated India, ICC said. The watchdog said "Hindutva" would not welcome differences but would seek to make India a country with Hinduism as the only religion. According to the ICC, this development is coupling with a growing radicalisation of India's Muslims.

New Testament Pentecost Church was established 35 years ago. Eleven years ago, the church successfully registered with the government, and has grown to include 11 branches and various ministries, and does not operate using foreign assistance.

However, 12 years ago a Muslim family living nearby started making life difficult for the church. According to ICC, the father of this family tried many different ways to get rid of the church, first by attempting to buy it from the pastor. When that did not work, he and his son started to disturb their worship by shouting loudly over their singing. But the real trial came when four months ago the neighbour and other Muslims joined together and sued the church. The pastor, Sam George, was summoned to the police station four times. Twice the police were favourable to him, but the last two times the police became hostile, ICC said.

Recently, a notice came from the municipality showing that the church's worship was causing a disturbance to the neighborhood. Police stopped Sunday services 22 times, verbally abusing the church members and attempting to arrest Pastor George. The police gained a court order against the church, prohibiting their use of a sound system because the sound was more than 55 decibels, the volume of a normal conversation.

Four weeks ago the church received a notice from the municipality showing that the church hall would be sealed if they sang songs or did any preaching. The next day the building was sealed without an order from the high court. For the last four weeks they have been worshipping in another house.

In two separate instances, the perpetrators were also Hindu. Unidentified Hindu extremists came on motorcycles and started throwing stones through the windows of Carmel Gospel Center on March 6 in Kooroppada village in Pampady area near Kottayam town.

"After a prayer meeting...we heard the sound of stoning coming from the room where our five-year-old son Barose and two-year-old daughter Basia were sleeping. We cried aloud and rushed to the room to protect them. When the attackers heard our voice, they stopped stoning and fled," Paul said.

The attackers had also drawn Hindu symbols, such as "Om" and the Nazi "Swastika" on the walls opposite the compound of the centre.

In the third incident, a radical Hindu mob vandalised a Pentecostal church on March 4 in Thiruvanandapuram district of Kerala. Extremists interrupted the Sunday worship service and started physically assaulting the congregation. The attack prevented the church from conducting the worship service.

According to the government figures, Christians comprise 19 per cent of the 31.8-million population of Kerala. At the national level, only 2.3 per cent of India's population is Christian. The ICC warned that the Kerala attacks would only embolden anti-Christian extremists elsewhere to attack the even more vulnerable Christians in their states.

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