A Church building was set ablaze by unknown miscreants in the dead of the night on the 13th of June 2020 in Chengalpattu,district in Tamil Nadu.
Pastor Ramesh Jebrajwho who is blind from birth leads the ‘Church of True Peace’ in Chengalpattu said that the Church was burnt to such an extent that the acoustic drum kit, 40 new mats and a battery-operated speaker and microphone set were burnt beyond repair. Jeya Kumar, a Persecution Relief District coordinator called and informed us about this disturbing incident.
“I believe the attack took place between 12am to 3am” said Pastor Ramesh, in conversation with Persecution Relief. The Pastor lives just a kilometre away from the now ruined Church. Around 30 families are a part of this Church and an average of 70 people used to regularly gather before the lockdown was imposed.
“The Pastor built the Church building in 2010 and since then he has been overseeing this congregation.” Said Jeya Kumar. While briefing Persecution Relief about the incident, Pastor Ramesh said, “In 2013, the fence around my home was burnt by unknown troublemakers. I chose not to make a police complaint back then but now the Church has been critically damaged.”
Pastor Ramesh has made a complaint at the E3 Police Station in Sadras, concerning the attack. When asked if he had any inclinations towards who the miscreants may be, he said that he is not very sure about who they are. Several possibilities were ruled out including that of a short circuit as the Church building has no electricity connection yet. Investigations are currently underway.
The Church building was a place where local Christians came together. It was not only a House of Worship but also a place to pray and fellowship in unity. Pastor Ramesh built the Church himself. It was a gradual process that took ten years in the making. Anyone would be absolutely devastated to see it burn to ashes, overnight.
In India, at least 49 Churches were attacked/vandalized/burned in the first quarter of 2020 itself. Churches have been lying vacant and believers were asked not to assemble owing to strict lockdown measures, but attacks on Christians are still rampant. As reports of hate crimes against Christians soar in spite of stringent restrictions, the crimes are also getting fiercer.
The state of Tamil Nadu has constantly occupied the second spot on the list of Top 5 Hostile States of Christian Persecution in India for the past 3 years. In 2016, 29 hate crimes against Christians were reported in Tamil Nadu, in 2017-57 cases, 2018-67 cases and in 2019-75 cases. Since January 2020, 22 cases of Christian Persecution have been documented till date.
From January 2016 to March 2020, Persecution Relief has recorded 1961 cases of Hate crimes against Christians in India. In the 1st Quarter of 2020, we recorded 187 cases. Between 1st Quarter of 2016 to 1st Quarter of 2020, there has been a rise of 128.04 % of Hate Crimes against Christians all across the country. In 1st Quarter of 2016, we have recorded 82 cases, in 2017 – 134, 2018 – 117, 2019 – 130 and in 2020 we recorded 187 cases of Christian Persecution. In 2019 alone, Persecution Relief has recorded the maximum number of 527 cases compared to 447 cases in 2018, 440 in 2017 and 330 in 2016.
In 2019 we have recorded 199 incidents related to Threats, Intimidations & Harassments against Christians, 104 incidents of Church attacks, 85 incidents of Physical Violence reported which includes Women & Children, 100s of House Churches were forcefully closed down by Religious Fanatics and the local administrations. US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) ranked India’s persecution severity at “Tier 2” along with Iraq and Afghanistan. Over the past seven years, India has risen from No. 31 to No. 10 on Open Doors’ World Watch List, ranking just behind Iran in persecution severity
Shibu Thomas is Founder Persecution Relief