Authorities in Madhya Pradesh, a predominantly Hindu state of India, have revoked a permit that would have allowed a Pentecostal church to hold a three-day convention, saying it might be a source of tension among people.
An official in Dhar district decided to revoke the permit for the Pentecostal convention scheduled for May 4, saying event organizers failed to fully disclose what would have transpired at the gathering.
In an interview with The Indian Express, Pastor Bharat Singh Mehda bemoaned the sudden change of heart by district authorities, noting that the event organizers complied with all the conditions.
Among these were that the convention organizers would not use loudspeakers and utter "objectionable slogans." Authorities also limited the event time from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.
"We were told at the last moment that the permission was cancelled," Mehda lamented. "Many participants from other places have already come. We had spent a lot on the event."
Subdivisional Magistrate K Sharma commented that the district administration decided to cancel the permit after the organizers did not inform them about the possible turnout of people.
He said the administration did not expect a heavy turnout of people in the event. But when the organizers began pitching large tents at the venue, authorities reevaluated their permission.
"They are free to hold a small prayer meeting in the local church but no big function will be allowed," Sharma explained.
Mehda scoffed at Sharma's explanation, saying "we are not being allowed to hold even a prayer meeting in the church."
About 1,000 people attend this year, but Mehda said he was expecting as many as 5,000 to join the annual convention.
The ecumenical Global Council of Indian Christians castigated the sudden cancellation of the convention, describing as flimsy the reason authorities gave.
"The presence of many people is just an excuse to cancel," said GCIC president Sajan K. George in an interview with Asianews.it. "In fact, the government of Madhya Pradesh is not new at large scale religious events."
George recalled that in 2011, some two million people attended a gathering organized by Hindu nationalist groups "who openly engaged in hate propaganda against Christians."
Last week, a U.S. government sponsored committee reiterated its tier 2 rating of India noting it continues to repress religious freedom, particularly in its minority communities.