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Christians allege authorities indifferent to their concerns

Dismayed at the lack of response of the Central government and the administration to the unbridled attacks on its churches, the minority Christian community in the national capital feels threatened. Monday’s vandalism of a church in Vasant Kunj was the fifth such incident in the capital in the past two months.

A “deeply disturbed” Christian community will be holding a “silent protest march” on Thursday from the Delhi Archdiocese on Ashoka Road to Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s residence. What has caused grave concern to the community has been the attitude of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whom they met in December and found him not receptive to their concerns.

The incidents, seen in the backdrop of the saffron brigade’s strident “ghar wapsi” programme for religious reconversion, has sent shockwaves through the community, which accounts for less than two per cent of Delhi’s population. Father Savarimuthu, spokesperson for the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese, says, “We are being perceived as a soft target, and what is striking is the silence of the prime minister on such issues.”

The local police and the administration, alleges Savarimuthu, too have been attempting to downplay the attacks as isolated cases. Only in one of the five incidents have arrests been made, that too because of CCTV footage available at the Vikaspuri church. “Even in the Dilshad Garden incident in December in which the church was completely burnt down, without even probing the case, the police initially dismissed it as an incident of short circuit. However, police were later compelled to take the incident seriously,” said Savarimuthu.

On Christmas eve when the community leaders met the prime minister to greet him, they also used the occasion to highlight their concerns, but allege it was dismissed as “media hype” and the “over-hyped reactions of a community that is educated and computer literate.”

Opposition parties that had raised the issue in Parliament of a silent approval by the BJP government to the saffron brigade’s ‘ghar wapsi’ programme, have again highlighted the attempted polarisation on the cusp of Delhi election. Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi lashed out at the PM questioning his silence. “I am not talking of cases in Odisha, this is the 5th such incident of vandalisation of a church in Delhi. I think it is reprehensible that you are making such tall promises and making such great statements about how lucky you are, and under your very nose without your comment, your rejection, your condemnation, not even a single word by you, this is happening time and again. It is an overall divisive agenda.”

Delhi Archbishop Anil J T Couto, in a statement on Monday, accused the government of “failure to give protection to minorities and their religious structures.” He said the attacks were “aimed at creating a fear psychosis and tension among different communities.”

In what can be read as a harking back to visiting US President Barack Obama’s departing words cautioning India against religious divide, the Archbishop said India’s image in the world of religious tolerance and religious diversity would be “irreparably damaged” if such incidents were not checked.

RECENT ATTACKS ON CHURCHES IN DELHI
  • Dec 1, 2014: St Sebastian’s Church in Dilshad Garden gutted; police initially claim “short circuit” but had to lodge FIR after bottles of kerosene found inside the church
    Status: SIT team formed after protests; probe is on, no arrests till date
     
  • Dec 7, 2014: A group throws stones at Our Lady of Fatima Syro-Malabar Catholic Church in Jasola; windowpanes shattered
    Status: Police say anti-socials responsible; no arrests
     
  • Jan 3, 2015: A crib on the grounds of the Church of Resurrection in Rohini burnt down; police say short circuit might have caused the fire; church management alleges arson
    Status: Probe still on; no arrests till now
     
  • Jan 14, 2015: Our Lady of Graces Church in Vikaspuri vandalised; CCTV footage shows two men breaking a glass cabinet and throwing the statue of Mother Mary on the floor
    Status: Three arrested; police say the three have no political affiliation
     
  • Feb 2, 2015: St Alphonsa’s Church in Vasant Kunj vandalised; sacred chalice stolen, altar desecrated
    Status: Police register a case of theft; church authorities say many valuables and donation boxes left untouched

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