Ã‚Â Ã¢â‚¬Å“All that the Hindu radicals want is for Sangameshwar to be a Ã¢â‚¬ËœChristian-freeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ village,Ã¢â‚¬Â Pastor Srinivas Sapa, a 42-year-old Christian resident of Sangameshwar, told International Christian Concern (ICC). Ã¢â‚¬Å“Of all the 50 odd Christians who are native to Sangameshwar, most were born in the village and are now panicked over the situation.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Located 80 miles north of Hyderabad, the capital of IndiaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Telangana state, Sangameshwar has become one of the most recent sites of Christian persecution in India. In the early hours of July 14, a group of Hindu radicals, led by Loyapalli Srinivas Rao and Jettamaina Naresh Kumar, completely demolished the only church building in Sangameshwar. The building that was only three years old, built of bricks, cement, and iron sheets, was no more.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The Hindu radicals were opposed when we decided to buy land for the church building about five years ago,Ã¢â‚¬Â Pastor Sapa told ICC. Ã¢â‚¬Å“None of [the] villagers were willing to sell their land for the church, as they were instructed, even threatened, by Hindu radicals not to sell.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“When one of the church members donated land for the church, the Hindu radicals installed an idol on the same premises,Ã¢â‚¬Â Pastor Sapa continued, explaining that the Christian community had to fight in court to ultimately win the right to build a place of worship in Sangameshwar. Ã¢â‚¬Å“When the court found in favor of the church member, the radicals didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have any other option except to use their might, taking the law into their own hands and demolishing the church.Ã¢â‚¬Â
For the Christians of Sangameshwar, the destruction of their church is not the first time they have experienced persecution. For many, social boycotts because of their Christian faith have become a part of their daily lives.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“For the last year, things have become more difficult,Ã¢â‚¬Â Pastor Sapa explained. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I run a grocery and medical store in Sangameshwar to support myself financially. The Hindu radicals have threatened villagers not to buy anything from my store. The Hindu radicals have even circulated messages on WhatsApp and Facebook encouraging people to beat me and break my legs and hands.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“When the court found in favor of the church member, the radicals didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have any other option except to use their might, taking the law into their own hands and demolishing the church.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Though Christianity has existed for nearly 50 years in the village, there has been a growing strong opposition towards Christianity,Ã¢â‚¬Â Pastor Sapa said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“The Hindu radicals want to see a Ã¢â‚¬ËœChristian-freeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ village in Sangameshwar as part of their larger goal of establishing a Hindu India.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“No one is talking to us in the village,Ã¢â‚¬Â Mahon Reddy told ICC. Ã¢â‚¬Å“The work in our fields is affected. No non-Christian is willing to come to our fields for work. I am worried that there could soon be physical attacks.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Santhosh Reddy, another resident of Sangameshwar, is not a practicing Christian, but has observed the rise of intolerance in the village. In fact, Reddy was a practicing Christian until he became a victim of the social boycott.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We were socially boycotted by the entire village,Ã¢â‚¬Â Reddy explained. Ã¢â‚¬Å“All of our relatives abandoned us, no one used to speak to us, and we were not allowed to attend any family or social event.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“This is purely injustice on the minority faith community by [the] majority,Ã¢â‚¬Â Reddy continued. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I like the Christian faith and teachings, but due to social pressure, myself and my family cannot openly practice. I am hoping one day I will again be able take a Bible and openly preach about Jesus.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The demolition of the church in Sangameshwar was part of a surge in anti-Christian violence reported by ICC in the beginning of July. In the first two weeks of July, ICCÃ‚Â documentedÃ‚Â at least 15 separate anti-Christian incidents. Documented incidents included physical assaults, church demolitions, forced conversions, false accusations of forced conversions, and the institution of social boycotts.