Several churches in India’s Karnataka state are canceling Christmas services due to concerns over rising attacks by radical Hindu nationalists.
Rights group International Christian Concern (ICC) said some churches in the state’s Belagavi District even canceled Sunday gatherings after the situation “has become so dangerous.”
“We are in a critical situation,” said Pastor Yellappa, head of an independent church in Gokak.
The ICC report said Pastor Yellappa was forced to close his house church after his landlord received multiple threats from radicals.
“The landlord told me to vacate the house with immediate effect,” said the Protestant pastor. “The radicals put pressure on the landlord,” he added.
“I’ve given up the work that I have been building for the last nine years,” said Pastor Yellappa, adding that he feels “sorry for my congregation.”
“In the last nine years, I was attacked a number of times and arrested three times,” he said. “But I never thought a situation would come where I had to shut down the church.”
“This is the situation for all the house churches. It is very uncertain and only God can help us,” said the Church leader.
The ICC said that radical Hindu nationalists have been emboldened by the state government’s plan to enact an anti-conversion law in recent months.
Politicians from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have been accusing Christians in Karnataka of illegally converting Hindus to Christianity.
“These accusations and the BJP’s championing of the proposed anti-conversion law have led to a dramatic increase in attacks on Christians and their places of worship across the state,” said the ICC.
A local Church leader said that because of the situation “several house churches have decided not to have any Christmas programs.”
“Of all the house churches in the district, which there are nearly 300, more than half are shut down due to fear and intimidation,” said the source who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal.
“This might even get worse leading up to Christmas,” he said.
Pastor Andani, head pastor of a Pentecostal church in Kanadala, told the ICC that only 50 of the 200 members of his Church are coming for services in the past two weeks.
“I am not sure how many will turn up next Sunday,” he said. “I was told by my church members that in three villages the [authorities] have told Christians not to attend church on Sundays.”
“This is a difficult situation for me as a pastor,” said Pastor Andani. “I am even restricted from visiting my church members and praying in their houses.”
He said that if the situation continues, “all the church work will have to be done secretly.”
Local radicals have also been organizing a demonstration to protest alleged religious conversions by Christians.
Pastor Andani expressed fear that the demonstration will only further embolden those intimidating his Church community.