Officials and police in Tamil Nadu state, India, have ordered 10 churches to discontinue worship services, sources have told Morning Star News.

The news service reports that church leaders have said Hindu extremists compelled state officials and police to issue orders to the churches in Coimbatore District to stop worship unless they obtain permission from the collector’s office, and the extremists intend to target 20 others in the same way.

“It is a well-planned conspiracy against the Christian community, as the Hindu extremists know that it is not easy to approach the collector’s office for such permissions,” pastor Johnson Sathyanathan, president of the Synod of Pentecostal Churches of Coimbatore said. “The time to get such approvals can stretch from a year and a half to many more years.”

The district revenue officer told church leaders that orders against six churches were issued on the complaint of members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist, paramilitary organisation widely regarded as the parent organisation of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. Orders were issued in one case based on a complaint by the Hanuman Sena, a fairly new Hindu extremist group.

Morning Star News reports that a Christian delegation met the minister of Internal Affairs of Tamil Nadu early last week and expressed concern and fear about the recent notices. The state minister, on 24th October, called on the deputy superintendent of police and the local member of the Legislative Assembly of Sulur to look into the matter and take steps to ensure that the worship services can resume, Pastor Sathyanathan said.

“Altogether there are 10 churches that have been directly affected in the last two months,” he said. “They are all residents of the area, and people have never had trouble with these churches before. These pastors have been doing ministry for many years now.”

Besides the six churches, another congregation, an Assemblies of God Church in Thennampalayam, was first targeted during its Vacation Bible School this summer, when the members of RSS attacked its van transporting children, assaulting three young people. The revenue officer has closed down the church based on a complaint by the RSS, saying the pastor must secure permission from the collector to continue worshipping.

Other churches have been closed in Myleripalayam, Mathampalayam, Kalampalayam and Sulur.

Nearly 500 protesting Christians approached the district sub-collector and the superintendent of police on 11th October and submitted a memorandum demanding protection and appealing for the churches to be re-opened.

Pastor Sathyanathan, who participated in the protest, told Morning Star News that the city superintendent of police flatly refused any support or action.

“They said that they can do nothing about it, and why should we create unnecessary trouble, that instead we should go ahead and get legal permission for our churches,” he said. “We had organised a day of silent protest on 21st October, but we were denied permission to carry it out, as they stated that it was a law-and-order situation.”

Clarifying reports that 30 churches had been targeted, Pastor Sathyanathan said Hindu extremists had yet to take action against 20 of them.

“The Hindu extremists have openly threatened Christians that they are going to do the same in 20 more churches of the area that they have done to these 10,” he said.

Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May, 2014, the hostile tone of his National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), against non-Hindus has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians, religious rights advocates say.

India ranked 15th on Christian support organisation Open Doors’ 2017 World Watch List of the countries where Christians experience the most persecution.