|By Shreeshan V|
New Delhi : Just two days before the Assembly polls, the National Capital witnessed massive protests this morning outside the Sacred Heart cathedral, with police men in the Capital swooping down on a large number of people, including nuns, priests and children who were protesting the lack of action against the repeated attacks on churches in New Delhi.
The incident in which the depiction of the holy trinity in the main shrine of the church was reportedly damaged by unidentified persons who broke into the church, is the fifth attack since the beginning of December.
The first incidence of vandalism on a church premise occurred on December 7 last year when the windows of Our Lady of Fatima Forlane Church in Okhla were broken by unidentified men during the evening mass.
The first and the most audacious attack, occurred on December 1 when the St. Sebastian Church at Dilshad Gardens was burnt down in a suspected case of arson. Although traces of kerosene have been reportedly found on the site during the investigation, the police have made little progress in apprehending those responsible.
The second incidence of vandalism on a church premise occurred, almost a week later on December 7 last year when the windows of Our Lady of Fatima Forlane Church in Okhla were broken by unidentified men during the evening mass.
On January 3, the Christmas crib outside the Church of resurrection at Rohini was burnt.
Ten days later, on January 14, the Church of Our Lady of Graces in Vikaspuri was vandalised by allegedly inebriated men on a dare.
As Delhi gears up for the polls, there is a strong suspicion among the Christian community that the incidents are not separate but a part of an orchestrated attack on Christianity. The locations of the vandalised churches spread out across the city and the timing of the incidents have given rise to rumblings within the community and the media that the incidents might, in some ways, be politically motivated and a surge in the number of such incidents in the Capital is likely to have political implications in the upcoming assembly elections.
There is a feeling of victimisation and marginalisation in light of recent times. The country’s secular and diverse fabric has been attacked in recent months and this has undoubtedly had a bearing on our political inclinations. We feel very uncomfortable in times of such polarisation. It will be visible in how we vote and I hope the rest of the city, regardless of faith, also values the country’s diversity,
said Mr. T. Thomas, a church goer.
In the aftermath of the alleged ransacking of the St. Alphonsa Church, late on Sunday night, around 250 people had gathered at the church for the evening prayers.
Presiding over the mass, Chancellor of the Archidiocese of Delhi Fr. Matthew Koyickal, urged the congregation to keep strength and maintain calm amidst the slew of attacks on Christianity across the city.
After the evening service Fr. Matthew Koyickal told Point Blank 7,
We feel that it is likely, because of the timing, that these incidents are all connected and that there is some political strategising involved. These churches have stood for a long time now and never before have there been any problems with security. The timing draws the motives into question.
The chancellor’s thoughts seemed to be echoed by most people who had congregated for the evening mass at St. Alphonsa Church.
The incidents over the past two months have been very upsetting. In our minds, there are clear indications of these incidents being politically motivated because of the symbolic violence, the timing and the official inaction in dealing with these crimes,
said churchgoer, Dr. Anish Matthew.
A discernible sense of dissatisfaction with government and police authorities has come about with the allegedly lackadaisical official response following the incidents.
According to Dr. Pradip Datta, professor of Political Science at Delhi University,
These attacks are designed to marginalise the Christian community; to show that they are outside of the mainstream and to foster a general sense of insecurity just like what is happening all over the South Asian region.
The Home Ministry issued a directive to the Delhi Police to install CCTV cameras in places of worship following the first attack on December 7 but since then there has not been much progress in the cases and neither have the instances of vandalism abated.
Rev. Fr. Frankin Philip, National Youth Director of the Indian Catholic Youth Movement (ICYM) stated over a phone conversation with Point Blank 7,
The incidents are disturbing especially because of the silence of those in power. The security provided is still inadequate and the attacks are evidence of this.
There seems to be an attempt to keep the incidents under wraps and delay or even dismiss any action regarding the case. The media has reported that the police are filing a case of robbery while the case is one of clear desecration. They do not want to treat it as a desecration of faith because of the added political and religious baggage that it implies,
said a visibly perturbed churchgoer Mr. George Thomas Parokaram.
The dissatisfaction with the police and those in power is also apparently shared by many people who share the faith. Although how the police will treat this case is still unclear since an FIR is yet to be filed as clarified by Fr. Matthey Koyickal.
“I have confronted the police after reports that the attack was being treated as a case of robbery and have made it clear that it is a case of desecration. Even the offering boxes were untouched, how can it be a robbery then?”
Police officers stationed outside the church, while being defensive, refused to answer any questions relating to the matter. There has been no comment from the Southern District Vasant Vihar police station despite numerous attempts.
According to the 2011 census, the Christian population of Delhi is about 1 per cent of the total population of Delhi.
The way to maximise political agency despite their low numbers in Delhi, is to form pan-India associations and alliances with other social and political forces, feels Prof. Pradip Datta.
Of course, there is also the possibility of extreme and fundamentalist reactions from the Christian community which shall be an absolute shame and could potentially damage the balance in a diverse social structure,
opined Prof. Datta.