A church was destroyed by fire in India in a suspected arson attack:
A mysterious, early morning fire destroyed one of East Delhi's big churches, St Sebastian's Church in Dilshad Garden, prompting allegations of foul play by the Christian community.Members of various churches held a candle light vigil on Monday evening, and about 2,000 Christians protested outside the church on Tuesday morning.
Police have registered an FIR against unknown persons under section 436 (mischief by fire with intent to destroy house) of IPC.
The blaze started in the early hours of Monday and reduced to ashes the church's interior, including the altar, the Holy Bible, Cross and all images and statues. Several churchgoers stood outside the charred remains of the 13-year-old shrine the entire afternoon, protesting against what they believed was a planned assault.
Delhi archbishop Anil Couto has in a memorandum to PM Narendra Modi and home minister Rajnath Singh demanded a judicial inquiry into the incident. Couto also alleged that the police took a long time to react to the fire and were late in sending officers and forensic units to collect evidence.
Archbishop Couto, in his memorandum, demanded that the government must repair the building before Christmas, ensure that policemen guilty of dereliction of duty are punished and that special police investigation teams are set up to trace the guilty.
A statement from the the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese said that the entire interior of the Catholic St Sebastian's Church, which was built in 2001, was reduced to ashes and that forensic samples retrieved from the inside of the church still smelt of fuel oil.
"The Christian community... and civil society have decided to protest at the offices of the police commissioner... to focus attention on the attempts to polarise the people in Delhi state, which goes to the polls soon, and the continued persecution of Christians in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and other tribal and rural areas," the press release added.
Several phone calls to police officials went unanswered.
One of the first to arrive on the scene, around 6.30 in the morning, was the parish priest, Father Antony Francis. Another priest of the church, Father Stanley, said that there was an overwhelming stench of kerosene in the entire church when he arrived there, and explained: "Traces of it could be seen floating on water with which fire tenders had flushed our church. Undoubtedly this was planned vandalism."
Local Christians, about 1,500 families, recall one instance of vandalism against the same church. "In 2010, this church was stoned by some people. We still don't know why. So this assault is not new but is still terribly upsetting," said Roby Matthews, a regular at St Sebastian's.
Persecution of Christians in India is not new but indeed recurring, amidst authorities' inaction. Below is just a very brief, incomplete sample of past attacks.
RECURRING ANTI-CHRISTIAN VIOLENCE IN INDIA
Only a few days ago, some 25 Hindu fighters broke into the Calvary Apostolic Church congregation in the town of Bangarapet, in southern India, during a Sunday church service.
The church was vandalised, and 8 worshippers were injured in the attack, some seriously.
"The whole scene of a mob assaulting my believers was shocking and very frightening," described Pastor Robert Solomon D'Souza. "First they destroyed the furniture in the church and then started beating up believers who were gathered in the church for worship."
In June, a couple was hacked to death after converting to Christianity.
Last March, a court in India found 3 people guilty over the rape of a Catholic nun. The nun was raped by a Hindu mob in Kandhamal district, Orissa state, in 2008, days after riots caused by the death of a Hindu religious leader.
Although Left-wing Maoist rebels in the state claimed responsibility for the killing, hard-line Hindu groups blamed the minority Christian community for the death.
More than 30 people were killed in the anti-Christian violence, dozens of churches and Christian institutions were vandalised, and clergymen attacked. More than 25,000 Christians were made homeless by the violence.
Further back in time, AP reports:
In 1999, an Australian missionary and his two sons, aged 8 and 10, were burned to death in their car in the eastern state of Orissa following a Bible study class. In 2007, violence against Christians flared again in Orissa, with at least 3 people killed.