Legal Victory For House Churches in India

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CWN.org -- Over four months after government authorities closed several house churches in Karnataka, India, the Karnataka High Court said they should reopen and can hold worship services.

This followed the action of several pastors and Christian believers from Davanagere District who had lodged a writ petition to the High Court of Karnataka in Bengaluru.

The All India Christian Council had supported the pastors in logistical and finding legal representation. For last four and half months about twelve churches in Davanagere in central Karnataka were locked.

Following attacks on several churches on August 17, 2008, the district administration issued notices seeking a survey of churches functioning without permission. In early September, several churches were sealed. The next week Deputy Commissioner K. Amar Narayan instructed the Police Department to survey churches and prayer halls to check how many of them were authorized. The Indian media noted that worship places of other religions were not checked.

Local Christian leaders say the problems were because extremist Hindutva groups influenced officials. During 2008, groups like RSS and Bajrang Dal have beaten believers, pastors, and even set fire to churches. They also made false accusations against pastors and registered cases with the police. As a result there were few gatherings for Christians and they lived in fear.

The High Court chief Justice Mr. Dinakar was strict with the District Collector saying, "In a democratic country, no one has power to stop anyone worshiping according to one's own faith. One's faith can be a church or any other worship centre."

Advocate Shri.Ravi Varmakumar argued the case on behalf of the Christians. Today aicc rejoices with the believers in Davanagere and throughout Karnataka for the victory of the rule of law. Twelve churches that were closed are opened now and the government may be forced to compensate churches that were burned. All the cases lodged falsely against pastors were withdrawn with immediate effect due to the court verdict. During the court proceedings, the public prosecutor committed to give better protection to Christians and the minorities in Karnataka state.

Dr. Joseph D'souza, President of the All India Christian Council said, "The attempt of the extremist Hindu groups and the BJP to define 'the church' is halted through this ruling. The right wing Hindu extremists do not know that the Christian church in its 2000 year old history has met in homes, cells, underground hiding places, halls, fields and any location that was conducive to their meeting. This move of the extremist forces is aimed at targeting the non mainline churches."

For a full list of 48 incidents of anti-Christian violence and discrimination in Karnataka from August-October 2008, click here.

This story comes from the All India Christian Council.

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