The Madurai Bench of Madras High Court has refused to allow conversion of a residential building into a prayer hall. The court ruled that the house cannot be converted into a prayer hall as 80% of the residents in the area are against it.
Kanyakumari has been a religiously charged district since the Mandaikadu riot between Hindus and converted Christians. The district is already a Christian majority district and Hindus have been struggling to protect their identity. Mushrooming of new prayer halls which are later converted into churches is vehemently opposed by Hindus.
House church, using a house as a prayer hall and later converting it into a church is the time tested method of church planters. One such house church in Thingal Nagar in Kanyakumari was operating without the district administration’s permission since 1996. Maria Arockiam, the pastor who owns the house and ran the church applied for permission in 2009 to use it as a place of worship.
But the district collector rejected the application. Pastor went to court against it saying that the church has been operating without anyone’s objection for 13 years and sought to reverse the decision. The counsel appearing for the SP who suggested rejecting the application argued that “Following the 1982 Mandaikadu riot, the P Venugopal committee was formed to look into the issue. It suggested that permission shouldn’t be granted to allow building churches and temples in close quarters. Permission should be sought before building any place of worship. The SP’s report says that 80% of the residents are against convesion of the house into a prayer hall. Only based on this did the collector reject the application.”
The single bench of justice Vijaya Kumar observed that, “The government has made the decision based on P Venugopal committee’s suggestions to protect the religious harmony in Kanyakumari. In this case it is observed that there are two churches within 200 meter and a Hindu temple within 250 meter circumference (of the concerned building). 80% of the residents oppose the conversion of the house into a prayer hall”
He ruled that as the SP’s report says there will be law and order issues if the house is allowed to be converted into a place of worship, the collector’s decision is neither wrong nor illegal. The pastor’s petition seeking to reverse the collector’s decision was dismissed.