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4th March, 2013

Christians in India’s central state of Chhattisgarh urged the government on Sunday to provide protection to churches after Hindu militants broke up evangelical meetings and local police detained four pastors.

The incidents began on 21st February when a Hindu mob reportedly barged into the home of a believer in the town of Aara in Balrampur District where pastors were having dinner.

Hindu "extremists" accused them of "forceful conversion" and soon alerted police, Christians said. Local police detained Pastors Albis Para, Akshay Kumar, Harendra and Angad Singh for "knowingly joining or continuing in assembly of five or more persons after it was commanded to disperse," BosNewsLife learned.

Though the pastors were soon released on bail, the incident overshadowed a three-day gathering organised by the Calvary Gospel Mission group.

In a separate incident in Doeri village of Surguja District, evangelical Christians were forced to halt their 19th to 21st February meeting, attended by some 1,000 people, because "Hindu extremists disturbed them", organisers said.

The Hindus allegedly accused the gathering’s organisers and pastors of "forceful conversion". Church leaders said they decided to end the meeting to avoid further tensions, but did not ask police to intervene.

"As concerned people, we need to write to the chief minister of Chhattisgarh appealing…to safeguard the rights of the minority communities," said Reverend Richard Howell, the general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI).

The EFI, which represents evangelical Christians across the country, also asks the government "to provide protection to churches against attacks and to take immediate action against the perpetrators of violence,” Howell told BosNewsLife on Sunday..

He said evangelicals also "request prayers that the church would continue to serve the nation and faithfully share the Gospel of Jesus Christ which brings about reconciliation with God and one another."

The incidents come amid ongoing reported attacks against devoted Christians in India, a heavily Hindu nation where hardline groups oppose the spread of Christianity.

Mission groups say those becoming Christians also include many Dalits, deemed the lowest caste in India’s ancient system of Hinduism, as well as other impoverished people suffering discrimination.

Several states have also tightened laws on ‘forced conversions’ that critics claim effectively bans evangelism.

Evangelical groups strongly deny their involvement in forced conversions, saying the Bible makes clear that faith in Jesus Christ is based on a free personal choice for Him.



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