Christian group alleges 'police spying' on churches in Assam amidst security review

(Photo: Pixabay)

A Christian rights organisation in Assam's Karbi Anglong district has sounded the alarm over alleged police intrusion and data collection at churches, which it describes as "spying" that has caused panic among worshipers. The United Christian Forum (UCF) has urged the district administration to intervene and halt what it calls an unprecedented "spying exercise."

In a memorandum submitted to the District Commissioner last week, the UCF expressed concern over the "unprecedented collection of data of churches and its adherents by persons in uniform since last week." The group alleged that police personnel have been "barging into churches" in Diphu town and areas under Dokmoka police station, taking photographs and questioning about the churches without prior notice or official instructions.  

"Such action is causing panic and fear among the believers," Allen Brooks, spokesperson of Assam Christian Forum told Christian Today. The memorandum appealed that the "sanctity of holy shrines and worshiping places must be honoured by all." The UCF requested the district authorities to "immediately call off this exercise in the interest of public peace."

Christians form a minority of around 16.5% in the predominantly Hindu (80%) Karbi Anglong district. The alleged incidents have stoked fears, reminding the community of a 2022 controversy when plans for a government survey on churches sparked an outcry, leading the Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma to disassociate from any such exercise targeting religious institutions.

However, Assam police have defended the recent church visits as a security review mandated by the state headquarters in the wake of threats faced by Christian educational institutions. In February, a radical Hindu group allegedly threatened missionary schools, demanding removal of Christian symbols like statues and crucifixes from campuses and prohibiting priests and nuns from wearing religious robes.

“We reported the threats, but instead of taking action against the fringe elements who are causing this, the police is questioning the church institution,” said Father Tom Mangattuthazhe, the North East India Regional Bishops' Council Secretary for Ecumenism& North East Social Communications (NESCOM) to Christian Today.

“The questions that we (churches) are asked are - ‘How many baptisms have taken place?’; ‘How many conversions have taken place?’ and the details of such persons.” Objecting to such harassment, Father Mangattuthazhe questioned, “Are they doing such enquiries with other religious places? Why only Christian institutions?”

Raising an alarm, the Assam Catholic Educational Trust had written to the state Director General of Police seeking safety assurances for minority institutions. In response, the police chief instructed district Superintendents to collect information on Christian establishments to bolster security.  

Karbi Anglong SP Sanjib Saikia stated the police actions were a "follow up" to a complaint petition submitted in February by the UCF's Golaghat branch regarding "grievances of Christian community against recent threats and attacks on Christian schools."

Rejecting the police's reasoning, the UCF secretary Primingson Millick argued, "Survey of churches cannot be connected to the threats received by Christian educational institutes. The churches where police are barging into do not have any educational institutes."