City officials in India's Madhya Pradesh state have issued a notice telling a Christian family to stop worship gatherings in their own home.
Mahendra Nagdeve, a 45-year-old father of three, had been meeting with his friends and family in his house for worship services for 12 years, but on Nov. 8, he received a notice from officials telling him to discontinue the gatherings.
"With effect from the moment you receive this notice, you must not conduct any Christian congregational activity," the notice read, translated from Hindi, according to Morning Star News.
"If you continue any Christian activities despite receiving the notice, stringent action will be taken against you," it continued.
Nagdeve noted that the activities in his home included Bible studies with other families and his wife's Christian women's group. He said that the notice came as a surprise as no official had visited his house to indicate that the gatherings were problematic.
"I immediately submitted a response to the municipal officials stating it is my own house where I live with my family, and I had been praying peacefully in this house for 13 years now. Even my friends and relatives join us and we pray together," he said.
Nagdeve said that the house was constructed in 2005 with the permission of the municipal authorities. He contended that his home is not subject to church building regulations or permits because it is a house.
"Our prayers have never been a disturbance to anyone. We pray peacefully within the four walls of my house, and from my residence to as far as 200 meters there is not a single house or any construction," he explained.
Chandra Kisore Bawre, chief officer of the Balaghat municipal council, said that the notice was issued following complaints from "neighbors."
He admitted that he had been under pressure from some people to issue the notice, but added that he had not taken any action as yet.
One source told Morning Star News that the pressure came from Hindu nationalists who suspect Nagdeve of forcibly converting Hindus.
Nagdeve said that he had contacted the municipal director, Mira Samrithey, and told her that his house was not subject to church building regulations, adding that his family prays and studies the Bible in their home as anyone else does.
Samrithey, however, maintained that he cannot use the building for Christian activities until he receives permission to conduct church services.
Nagdeve's attorney, Anil Maglani, said that the municipal authorities have interfered in the personal life of a citizen and they have issued a notice telling officials that they are exploiting Nagdeve's religious beliefs.
The lawyer said that his team has asked for a legal basis for stopping people from praying in their house, and they are willing to take legal action if necessary.
Hindu nationalist groups across India have been stepping up pressure on officials to stop worship services at churches.
In early November, Hindu extremists reportedly compelled officials and police in Tamil Nadu state to issue orders to 10 churches to discontinue worship gatherings unless they obtain permission from the collector's office. Church leaders asserted at the time that the extremists are aiming to target 20 other churches as well.
Due to the increasing attacks against Christians, the advocacy group Open Doors has ranked India on its World Watch List as the 15th nation where Christians experience the most persecution.