Christians in central India are still seeking justice against a police officer accused of burning down a church structure and threatening them with fake charges if they continue to worship.
Morning Star News reported that sub-Inspector Bhavesh Shende of Chhattisgarh's Konta District interrupted house church worship on the property of a tribal Christian, Kadti Gurva, on February 3, telling the Christians not to assemble for worship and threatening to charge them as communist "Naxalite" rebels, according to Gurva and another Christian.
In their written protest to the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum, Gurva and Turram Kanna stated that Shende intimidated them because he didn't like their prayer and demanded them to stop immediately. On the following day, they were summoned by the inspector at the police station ordering them to burn their church. When they refused to burn the church, he cursed and threatened to kill them.
They claimed Shende called them the next day and informed them that he had ordered the church construction to be burned down. "He told us that he had our worship location set on fire and warned us that if we did it again [gathering for prayer/worship], he would arrest us and send us to jail," their complaint reads.
Officials from the Kistaram police station ultimately secured statements against the police officer from the two Christians and witnesses in the last week of April, after the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum made numerous attempts to persuade authorities to address the matter.
Hostility Among Non-Christians
Despite the lack of action, forum President Arun Pannalal remained optimistic. He said that he's assured that the officer's superiors will take action against him. According to an officer at the Konta police control room, Shende was still in charge of the Kistaram police station as of this writing, despite local leaders' claims that he had been transferred to another station.
On February 7, Pannalal and church leaders went to the Chhattisgarh Director General of Police and filed a memorandum asking for an investigation and expulsion of Shende for starting the church fire. Kanna and Gurva signed affidavits for them. In addition, the team filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission and Minority Commission.
With Kistaram police now summoning witnesses on the orders of higher-ranking officers to record their testimony, Pannalal expressed confidence that Shende would be prosecuted. Shende was supposed to get their statements himself at first, but the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum intervened again, forcing the duty to be delegated to other officials.
Seeking justice has been difficult because prominent officials have been indoctrinated by extreme Hindus. Pannalal claimed that "the top layer of authorities" in the state of Chhattisgarh have all been radicalized to do the bidding of Hindu fanatics.
Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi gained power in May 2014, religious rights groups claim the government's antagonistic tone toward non-Hindus has emboldened Hindu fanatics in certain parts of the country to assault Christians.
The church rebuilt its facility after the building burned down on February 5, with a ground-breaking ceremony on April 30.