Pastor Ravi* and  his congregation are grateful for being able to assemble regularly for prayers at their church in Kolar, Karnataka. A few months ago, it appeared like the end of the road for this close-knit community of around 50 members. They were shocked when the authorities told them that their church had to be shut down because they lacked permissions and because of serious complaints about their church activities.

The authorities were led to believe that the church building was standing on unauthorized land. They had also received complaints alleging that the Christians were offering inducements and fraudulently converting people to Christianity. Both these allegations were later found to be without any basis. A group of persons involved in property fraud had made up these allegations to malign the Christians and attempt to grab the church land. The land-grabbers collaborated with another group opposed to Christians that specializes in false propaganda. They created a video to spread disinformation about the church property and church activities. The video was then widely circulated on social media and other online platforms that are sympathetic to such propaganda.

ADF India allied lawyers learnt of this case and travelled down to meet him. Pastor Ravi tearfully narrated the circumstances in which the church had been shut down for several weeks.

The persecution faced by Christians in the region was not new to Pastor Ravi. He recounted how in 1994, as a 19-year-old, he had been part of a mob of over 70 persons that had attacked a Christian family based on their faith. Following this, he lost his peace and sleep until one day he sought God’s forgiveness for his violent acts. A year later, he responded to an inner urge to be involved in Christian ministry and began sharing the good news of God’s forgiveness.

Twenty-five years later, from being a persecutor of Christians, Pastor Ravi was now himself a victim of religious persecution. The ADF India allied lawyer helped him draft a complaint and accompanied him to meet with the District Superintendent of Police. They explained that the allegations of illegal conversions were baseless. They also showed the police the property documents which revealed that the church has full ownership of the land.

The miscreants were subsequently summoned and questioned by the police. A detailed investigation is underway. Meanwhile, following a preliminary inquiry, the authorities have allowed the church services to restart. For several months now, the Christians have peacefully gathered for worship at the church.

ADF India provides legal aid to victims of religious persecution. “There have been 16 incidents of religious violence reported from Karnataka in 2020 alone. No one should be persecuted because of their faith. The Indian Constitution grants the right to religious freedom. All people should have the right to freely choose and live out their faith”, said Tehmina Arora, Director of ADF India.

*Name changed to protect the privacy of the individual