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Christian school demolished in India, children seized from ministry: report

Officials in Eastern India demolished a Christian school, dormitory building and the home of its founder before seizing at least a dozen children affiliated with the ministry.

The leader of the school that educated over 250 children near the village of Lichapeta in Odisha state told the Christian persecution watchdog website Morning Star News that Hindu radicals persuaded a local government official to demolish buildings owned by the Christian ministry on May 13.

According to the school’s founder, Vijay Kumar Pusuru, a district official was incited by misinformation spread by the Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh to send about 50 people to demolish the school, his home, and the ministry hostel building that housed around 100 children.

Pusuru added that child protective agency officials then came on May 21 to take into custody six orphans and six other fatherless children served by the ministry. He said the children were taken as they “wept bitterly” and pleaded not to be forced to leave the property.

“They caught hold of branches and trees,” Pusuru explained. “But ruthlessly they were snatched and taken away.”

“I told them [the officials] that the reason they are officers today is because they got an opportunity to study and that they should give that opportunity to these tribal children, but no one listened to me,” Pusuru told Morning Star News. “They would be running around the village wasting their lives, and nobody cared about them.”

Pusuru said the school, which opened in 2015, was the only one within a radius of 62 miles that provided English-language education.

Since Pusuru’s home and the ministry’s hostel building were destroyed, the Pusuru family and the children they served were forced to live under a tree, he said. They continue to live under the tree today.

Pusuru said that the application he filed with the local government revenue office to open the school has gone missing after a Hindu leader opened his own school in the area about a year-and-a-half ago.

Pusuru explained that the officer who granted him the land allotment has since been transferred to a new office.

On Feb. 14, Pusuru was given notice that the ministry must vacate the land.

Pusuru appealed the eviction notice and was told he would have to pay a small fine. Although the fine was paid, RSS leaders applied more pressure on the government to close the school by claiming that Pusuru was running a mission school that distributed Bibles and conducted prayers every morning.

He said that officials came to the school and initially questioned the children about- prayers.

“The children informed them that there are no morning-evening prayers, but that prayer is a part of the school assembly every morning,” Pusuru was quoted as saying.

Having felt called by God to open the school for the tribal children, Pusuru said he invested a “huge amount” to build the school and acquire the furniture. But he says that “everything is now gone.”

When the school was finally destroyed, Pusuru and his parents peacefully protested with signs. He said that they were beaten by the demolition crew.

Over the last four years, Pusuru’s school sent off at least 30 students to do further study after completing grade five at other schools where they could receive free education up through grade 12.

India ranks as the 10th worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA’s 2019 World Watch List.

“Since the current ruling party took power in 2014, attacks have increased, and Hindu radicals believe they can attack Christians with no consequences,” an Open Doors USA factsheet on India reads. “As a result, Christians have been targeted by Hindu nationalist extremists more and more each year. The view of the nationalists is that to be Indian is to be Hindu, so any other faith — including Christianity — is considered non-Indian.”

Christians and other minorities in India are fearful that they will face increased persecution since the BJP has gained more power as a result of India’s most recent election last month.

“We hope and pray the international community will engage with the Indian government,” Indian Pastor Samuel told Open Doors USA last month. “It is possible that the Indian laws and even clauses in the constitution will be altered in this tenure, giving the government more tools to persecute minorities.”

Even before the election, the Evangelical Fellowship of India reported a stark increase in the number of cases of persecution and hate crimes against Christians in India in the beginning months of 2019 compared to the year before.

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