Police call Delhi church attack 'stray case': Community slams PM Modi's 'sabka saath, sabka vikas'

The Delhi Police, in a report submitted to the Home Ministry on Thursday, has said that the latest attack on the St Alphonsa Church in Delhi's Vasant Kunj area was a 'stray case', adding that there was no pattern in the repeated attacks on churches in New Delhi.

 Police call Delhi church attack stray case: Community slams PM Modis sabka saath, sabka vikas

A priest is taken into custody by Delhi police officials for protesting against the repeated attacks on churches. PTI

"The report does not point to any pattern or link between all these incidents and the present incident is described as a stray case of theft. When Delhi Police was asked why churches were being targeted repeatedly in the capital, the police reasoned orally with us that 265 temples have also seen thefts in Delhi in the last one year but the same has not been highlighted in the media," Economic Times quoted a Home Ministry official as saying.

This development comes despite the Home Minister Rajnath Singh asking the Delhi Police Commissioner BS Bassi why no protection has been given to churches despite repeated attacks on churches, according to Times Now.

After media furore over the incident, the Home Ministry sought a report from Delhi Police on the status of security at religious places. The ministry has also asked the police to send a report about the action taken in earlier cases of attacks on four other Delhi churches.

Angry over a spate of "attacks" on churches, members of the Christian community on Thursday staged a major protest in the heart of the city ahead of the 7 February Delhi assembly polls, accusing the BJP government of inaction and wondered why Prime Minister was "silent" on the issue.

Police detained over two hundred protesters from outside the Sacred Heart Cathedral in central Delhi when they tried to march towards the residence of Home Minister Rajnath Singh in a high security area in New Delhi.

A number of priest and elderly persons, including women, were picked up police and forced into buses. Some protesters, carrying placards, squatted on the road demanding protection to the churches.

"The Prime Minister claims to be a very strong PM. What happens when it comes to ground realities? When you are not able to protect a small minuscule community, how are you going to protect the whole of India? This is happening right in Delhi," Savari Muthu Sankar, spokesperson for the Delhi archdiocese, told PTI.

While the police initially claimed this was a case of theft, the church's administration pointed out that it was not just an incident of robbery. For starters, this is the fifth incident in a few months when a church has been targeted. Also, the thieves did not touch the donation box but stole a few sacred items, including a ciborium (receptacle) and a monstrance kept inside a tabernacle, a cabinet made of wood and glass, thus indicating that the intent was not just robbery.

"A few people barged into the church premises. They took away the sacred items and a DVD player. But they did not touch our collection box," Father Vincent Salvatore told IANS.

Savari Muthu Sankar said, "The intention of the burglars was not only to steal, but there was some foul play. We demanded from the police that the case should be investigated from other angles also."

John Dayal, former president of the All India Catholic Union, told IANS, "Somebody is trying to target our (Christian) community. Since this is election time, it has another dimension."

"We see a clear pattern in these attacks," he said, adding that this is the fifth such attack within three months.

The first attack took place on 1 December, 2014, when St Sebastian's Church in Dilshad Garden was gutted in a fire, leading to protests and sit-ins by Christians and their supporters asking for a detailed probe into the alleged arson.

Father Mathew Koyickal, chancellor (Archdiocese of Delhi) had alleged at that time that “someone deliberately set fire to the church as there is a strong smell of kerosene in the air." According to Indian Express, the entire "first floor was gutted, and the holy books and the alter were reduced to ash." Police later confirmed it was a case of arson, although no arrests have been made.

In the second incident, which took place on 7 December, stones were thrown at the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church at Jasola in Okhla when mass was being celebrated in the evening.

The third incident took place on 4 January when a Christmas crib installed in a church compound in Outer Delhi's Rohini area was gutted in fire.

According to the CCTV footage, the fire had broken out at around 2 am on 4 January in which all the statues and the decorations of the tableau set up depicting the birth of Jesus Christ were gutted.

While the spokesman of Delhi archdiocese had termed the fire a case of "targeted arson", the police had suspected that it could have happened due to a short circuit.

Savari Muthu Sankar had dismissed the police suspicion about short-circuit and alleged it was a case of targeted arson. "I have seen the CCTV footage and someone threw something from outside which caused the blaze. Luckily, the crib was outside the main church near the compound wall otherwise the entire church would have been burnt," he had said.

"It was raining all night and these are winters. Short-circuit cannot happen in these circumstances. Also, lights are working in the church and had it been short-circuit, it would not have worked," Sankar had said.

Firstpost had reported the fourth incident in which ‘Our Lady of Graces Church’ in Outer Delhi was vandalised by two men who pushed down the statue of Mother Mary and broke the glass cabin it was kept in. Their act was caught on CCTV camera installed on the premises of the church.

At that time, the police had said that the three persons they arrested after identifying them in CCTV footage were drunk and acting on a bet.

"They were drunk and had challenged each other to do something sensational which can grab media attention. They have no association with any political and fringe religious group,” Joint Commissioner of Police (South-West) Tejinder Luthra had told Firstpost.

“Their act was not deliberate and they did not want to hurt religious sentiments. They were remorseful when they get back to senses,” he had added.

However, Sankar had told Firstpost, "There is a clear pattern in all recent attacks. It was definitely planned and orchestrated."

“Our places and scriptures are set on fire. Statues are broken down but nothing has been done to protect our interests. Is this sabka saath, sabka vikas (together with all, development for all)?” Archbishop Anil Cuoto had asked.

Leaders of the Church community also told Firstpost that they felt  “India has now become a Hindu nation” and the police have also “changed its colour with the change in government."

(With agency inputs)

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Updated Date: Feb 05, 2015 21:15:12 IST