NEW DELHI: Christians across the country—and particularly in the northern states of India—are feeling “insecure and traumatised” after one of their biggest churches St Sebastian’s Catholic Church in Dilshad Garden was gutted by arsonists in what is described by the community as a deliberate communal attack.
A spontaneous protest demonstration attended by Bishops, priests and nuns along with academics, students and other professionals succeeded in getting the Delhi government under Lt Governor Najeeb Jung to set up a Special Investigating team under the Delhi police Crime Branch to enquire into the incident. However, a memorandum for a judicial enquiry to Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not elicited a response as yet.
Archbishop Anil Couto told the rally they would wait to see the Central and State governments’ action before deciding the next course of action. The burning of the church had created a sense of insecurity, and the government had to show by its action that it was concerned and would ensure security of all minorities, specially the small Christian community in their motherland where they have been living peacefully for 2,000 years. The government had to end targeted violence and impunity so that the Constitutional guarantees of freedom of faith for all citizens were seen on the ground. We are hoping the Prime Minister and his government will reaffirm this commitment.
Later Jung assured Archbishop Couto of zero tolerance against targeted and communal violence in the national capital. He said he was directing the Police Commissioner to see that the investigations into the burning of the church were carried out expeditiously and that all preventive measures were taken. The state government, he said, was deeply concerned about such issues.
The Christians also remain at the receiving end of communal harassment and violence. Although incidents like the brutal murder of Graham Staines and his two young children, as well as the targeted violence in Kandhamal have not been repeated the churches remain under attack. This has created great insecurity within the community.
Some of the recent incidents of violence include an attack on two house churches in the Annapur district of Madhya Pradesh on November 30. No action has been taken against the attackers.
Chhattisgarh has witnessed regular and repeated attacks on the fundamental rights of the minority Christian community. Most recently, according to the media and local sources, local politico organisations such as the VHP are pressurising local Catholic missionaries to put up pictures of Goddess Saraswati in their educational institutions. The Catholic schools are also under pressure to rename the principals in their schools, as “Pracharya”, or “Up-pracharya”, instead of the term “Father”, which is usually used.
In a memorandum to PM Modi the Christian organisations have drawn attention to a social boycott of the entry of Christian missionaries in more than 50 villages of Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region by the local gram panchayats since late May.
In Deggarh district, Odisha several tribal Christian families were excommunicated on 28 April allegedly at the behest of religious extremists. The three Christian families were excommunicated and deprived from enjoying common facilities of the village road, water and forest land. The well commonly used by the Christians was polluted by adding filth to it. And the Christians have been forbidden to mix or talk to anybody, to take part in any social functions or walk on the main road. The extremists also threatened to snatch away the government land allotted to the Christians, to cancelled their BPL Cards and demolish their houses if they do not give up their religion.
On 16 June, a mob of religious extremists brutally beat up Christians and 10 believers including two women who were later rushed to the hospital in Sirisguda, Bastar town, Jagdalpur, Chhattisgarh. About 100 Christians who were denied rations for two months for their faith were beaten up by a mob. At about 1 pm, Christians from 52 families came together before the district Food Inspector office when the mob rushed in and started to beat the Christians indiscriminately. The mob beat up the Christians with sticks, kicked and punched them and hurled stones at those who were trying to escape from the scene. Two women were pulled to the ground while the perpetrators stood on them and hit their genital organs. No FIR was registered against members of the mob.
· Religious-political extremists locked up a church on June 5 after they beat up a Christian family in Balwanazir, Kaliyanganj, Bihar. The mob comprising of beat up Sadanandan Singh and his family on May and June and finally locked up the church of the Indian Evangelical Team. Singh and his family were dragged on the road and the entire family including two minor girls were beaten up mercilessly. The extremists have locked up the church and told Singh that he is not allowed to pray in the future in the village.
Local religious political groups threatened to harm Pastor Bhikanlal Dhurvey several times for conducting prayer meetings in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. However, the pastor continued to conduct worship services and later started to build a prayer hall in his land. Subsequently, the extremists filed a police complaint against the pastor of illegal construction. The construction has since been stopped and prayers are now being conducted in the homes of local Christians
· On 18th May in Kundupur, Karnataka the properties of two churches were allegedly damaged by unidentified miscreants. An ornamental pot at the entrance of the Holy Rosary church was broken and a signpost leading to St. Antony Church in Koteshwar also was uprooted.
· On 29 April, three chapels in Irinjalakuda diocese were damaged after allegedly police cleared the way for the “Way of the Cross’ procession of the Saint Anthony’s Catholic Church. Earlier on 11 April, extremists had blocked the procession of St Antony’s Catholic Church. The police intervened and cleared the passage for the procession as this was the traditional practise for several years and the local temple administration has given permission for the same.
PM Modi has been given details of the recent attacks on the Christian community, seeking his intervention to ensure that “we are able to live in peace.”