For the past one and a half years, a family of 80 Christians afflicted by leprosy and living in Sanjay Gandhi Nagar Leprosy Colony in Secunderabad, Telangana have been anxiously waiting to continue construction of their Church . In July 2019, a group of persons from the region had opposed the building of the Church under false allegations, because of which the church construction work was halted.
In India, patients afflicted by leprosy are mostly confined to remote colonies alloted by the Government where many are left to live a crude existence. Taking away anything more from them would amount to gross injustice in their already difficult lives. Such a violation was inflicted upon the families living in SGN Leprosy Colony, when they were deprived of their right to freely worship.
All religious communities in the Sanjay Gandhi Nagar Leprosy colony are each alloted plots of land for use as separate places of worship. However, for decades, the Christians gathered regularly in a make-shift “Church shed”. Not only was it difficult for everyone to fit inside the shed, but the rains made it worse. The Christians began discussing the need to construct a proper structure where they could gather to pray for which ach of them contributed towards the Church building fund.
It took the Christians almost fifteen years to collect a considerable amount and begin construction of the Church building in June 2019. However, their joy was short-lived as the construction work was stopped not long thereafter.
Just a month after construction began, some people who were opposed to the Church construction in the colony filed a petition in the High Court claiming that the construction was illegal and that the Christians had encroached upon the land. The High Court passed an interim stay on the construction and issued notices to the concerned authorities. This came as a blow to the Christians who had worked hard to see the Church building .
Following the stay order, the perpetrators continuously taunted the Christians and on two instances even attempted to physically attack the elders of the Christian community. The anti-social elements also attempted to create communal disharmony by warning the Christians not to raise any church structure higher than the temples in the colony. Shivani*, one of the Christians, shared, “We fear for the safety of our families. We also worry about the current state of our incomplete church building since the rains continue to cause damage to it.”
In the past several years, the victims had been subjected to hostility and their prayer services regularly disturbed by loud noises, intentionally created to disrupt their meetings. In an effort to discourage their faith, many times, the Christians were falsely accused of forceful conversions.
The attempt to stop the victims from building their church, in addition to all the unlawful disturbances to the practice of their faith, is a direct violation of their constitutionally guaranteed right to freely profess and practice their faith. ADF India and its allies are working closely with the Christians and representing them in Court to ensure that the stay order is vacated and that they can complete the church building and peacefully gather to worship in accordance with their faith.
*Name changed to protect the identity of the individual