A church that was a shelter to 13 children was forcefully shut down last week by the local authorities on allegations of unlawfully sheltering the children. The church is at the outskirts of village Karlakha at Narayanpur District, Chhattisgarh.
A horde of people comprising of police personals, officials from the Women and Child Development Department (called Mahila Bal Vikas) of the State Government, media and people from the Collector’s office reached the Bastar Christ Mission (BCM) Church on 17 November 2016. The Pastor of the Church Prem Sagar, 40, was interrogated about the 13 children sheltering in the church. Sagar was asked to present himself before the District Collector Taman Singh Sonwani on the same day. The District Collector demanded to see documents relating to the children who were sheltering in the Church.
There were 13 children – seven girls and six boys, their age-group ranging from 6 to 14 years. These children have been living in the church for the past four years and were sent to attend school half a kilometer away in a nearby government school inside the village.
“The parents of these 13 children come from tribal families who have low-incomes. They are regular members of the BCM Church and these children were sent to stay in the Church with their parents’ consent,” said Pastor Prem Sagar while speaking to Global Christian News.
BCM is sponsoring the children’s school fee, tuition fee, food
and accommodation. When GCN asked Sagar the source of the support, he said that the organisation partially supported the children but the rest of the support was raised from within his Church (local BCM church).
On the day that the alleged raid took place, the children were in school and the Mahila Bal Vikas officials handpicked all the 13 children from their school and forcibly relocated them to Porta Cabin hostel at Devgaon in Chhattisgarh. Parents of these children approached the Collector’s Office asserting that their respective children lived with the pastor after parental consent. A written petition was also presented to the authorities claiming their children’s custody, but were denied.
The parents were interrogated by the authorities as well as media over their decision of leaving their children under the care of Pastor Sagar. The children were interrogated separately by the officials as to the kind of treatment they received under Pastor Sagar.
Sagar produced all the documents that he possessed but failed to produce a permission letter, which is mandatory to be obtained from the Women and Child Development (WCD) Department. “I told the authorities that I have no issue in getting the permission letter from the WCD department and requested the District collector (DC) to allow me time to pursue the same and produce it before the authorities,” said Sagar.
However, the District Collector further warned Sagar of sealing the Church. Now Sagar is unsure if he would be allowed to conduct regular service the following Sunday. He has been ministering in the area for the past 20 years and pastors this Church in association with the BCM organisation for the past 8 years.
Sagar said he regretted his oversight. He requested prayer for his Church congregation, which is made up of about 100 members and for the future of the 13 children.
“I have brought them up as my own children, I had a separate room for boys and a separate place for the girls to sleep. I gave them the best that I could,” said Sagar. Sagar lives with his wife and 2 children, a 12-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter in the same Church campus.