India: Police officer believed to have burned down church in Chhattisgarh state

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

by Karen Faulkner, Worthy News Correspondent

(Worthy News) - Christians from India’s Koya tribal community in Kistaram village, Chhattisgarh state believe the head of their local police station is responsible for burning down their church in the early hours of 5 February, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reports. India ranks 10 on the US Open Doors Watch List 2022 of top 50 countries where Christians are persecuted.

Built by Koya tribe believers, the church was set on land belonging to congregant Kadti Gurva, CSW said. The church has a congregation of around 100 people who gathered at the site for worship, prayer, and Bible study.

On February 3 at 11 am, Police Station Head Officer (SHO) Bhavesh Shinde arrived at the church and told the believers to stop praying because he didn’t like it. He also accused the believers of being Naxalites, communists who have feuded with the government over land rights. Then, at 3 am on 5 February, the church was burnt down, CSW said. The congregation found out about it because Shinde told them. The congregation also discovered that, the day before, the SHO had asked two villagers to set fire to the church, but they had refused.

The congregation has filed an official police report alleging Shinde’s involvement, CSW said. A delegation from the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum has also formally asked for an inquiry into the arson, and for Shinde’s suspension.

In a statement about the incident, CSW Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: "We urge both Chhattisgarh state and central government authorities to conduct an independent and impartial investigation to ensure that all perpetrators of this crime, including any police officers who may be complicit, are brought to justice."