Church Attacks Cause Angst Among India’s Christians

By Sahana Ghosh

2015-03-29
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150329-IN-christians-620 Indian Christians and activists in Allahabad rally against the reported rape of an elderly nun in West Bengal, March 22, 2015.
AFP

A feeling of unease is gripping India’s tiny Christian community amid attacks on churches and threats made against Catholics, according to leaders of the religious minority.

“The attacks on churches in various parts of the country are creating a sense of insecurity among the community,” Sister Shirley Sebastian, principal of Our Lady Queen of the Missions School in Kolkata, told BenarNews. “But we will continue with our mission of education.”

Christians are particularly fearful that chauvinists from the nation’s religious majority are targeting congregants, their places of worships as well as parochial schools, and that such incidents have increased under the government led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“There is a pattern to the attacks [which] are attempts to create communal tension,” Anil Joseph Thomas Couto, the Archbishop of Delhi, told BenarNews.

“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’)?” he asked, referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s growth slogan.

Police act

This week, police in the state of West Bengal stood guard outside a parochial school in Nagrakata, St. Capitaneo Higher Secondary School for Girls, after its principal reported receiving anonymous letters threatening to burn down the campus, the Indian Express reported Wednesday.

Separately, several arrests were announced in two reported attacks on Christian institutions.

On Monday, police in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh said they arrested six suspects, after Hindu fundamentalists had been filmed on close-circuit television vandalizing a local cathedral, Agence France-Presse reported.

On Thursday, West Bengal police announced the first arrests in their investigation of a break-in at a convent in Ranaghat town on March 14, during which an elderly nun was raped.

Two suspects were arrested, including a Bangladeshi immigrant who was picked up in Mumbai, West Bengal police said. Police earlier had questioned 10 people in connection with the case.

One of the suspects, Mohammad Sikander Shaikh, alias Salim, was present during the break-in by a gang at the Convent of Jesus and Mary, police said.

They identified the second suspect as Gopal Sarkar, a resident of Habra, a town in West Bengal near the Bangladeshi border.

Religiously motivated?

Investigators probing the Ranaghat case say that robbery was the motive, and the intruders weren’t necessarily targeting the convent’s occupants because they belonged to a religious minority.

But Christians say they aren’t convinced.

“If robbery was the motive, the attackers would take the money and run away. Why would they spend almost four hours in the school?” Maria Fernandes, vice chair of the West Bengal Minority Commission, told Benar News.

Meanwhile, churches in the major Indian metropolitan areas of Mumbai and New Delhi have also complained to police about being targeted by people who hate Christians.

Earlier this month, the exterior of a church in Navi Mumbai was pelted with stones. 

“Such incidents have begun to happen in Maharashtra after the BJP came to power in the state. There is a substantial Christian population in Mumbai and we have been living in the city for years. But, we are living in fear ever since churches across the country began to be attacked,” Agnelo Fernandes, president of the Mumbai Christian Youth Forum, told BenarNews.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, a BJP member, issued a statement denying that his party had taken part in the vandalism at the church.

“There is nothing in the incident that indicates that there is a political organisation behind the attack,” he said.

And in New Delhi, five churches have also reported cases of vandalism or theft.

But Delhi police say there is no communal angle to any of these incidents.

“There have been 269 cases of thefts and burglary also in Hindu temples in Delhi this year,” Delhi Police Commissioner M.K. Meena said.

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