Political factors are responsible for the act of vandalism at a Christian shrine in the capital, community members say.
Even as the Delhi police are treating the desecration of a church in the city’s Vasant Kunj area as a case of burglary, community members are more wary: many believe the act of vandalism could have been politically motivated.
The break-in at St. Alphonsa’s Church in South Delhi, which occurred in the wee hours of Monday morning, was the fifth time a Christian place of worship has been targetted in the city over the past two months. The incident took place as the city gets ready to vote in assembly elections on February 7, and against the backdrop of the gharwapasi campaign launched by the Sangh Parivar to get members of minority communities to convert to Hinduism.
The vandals at St. Alphonsa’s Church broke the tabernacle, the most sacred symbol in the shrine, and ransacked the sacristy, where vestments and other objects associated with ceremonies are stored. “The violators specifically destroyed the holy symbols of the church,” said Father Vincent Salvatore, the priest in charge of the church. “The donation boxes and other valuables of the church were left intact. It is clear that it was done with a clear intention to hurt the religious sentiment of the Christian community in the area.”
Situated on Green Avenue, the poshest part of Vasant Kunj area and surrounded by massive farmhouses, St. Alphonsa Church serves about 500 families. Fifty per cent of them belong to lower-income groups.
Joseph, a government employee who declined to give his last name, said that the number of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh shakhas in the area have grown in the last few months. “We have been regularly receiving updates from fellow members from the nearby slums in Mehrauli that they are being regularly pressurised into converting to Hinduism,” he alleged. “I don’t know if that has a direct connection with this attack.”
The same claim was made by Meena Devi, a resident of Rangpuri Pahari, who works as a domestic maid. “Even before the campaigning for Delhi elections began, the shakha members in our area are targeting Christian families in Rangpuri,” she said. “They are building pressure on us to vote for their candidate. The leader of the shakha even told my sister, ‘Listen to us or have you heard of gharwapsi?’”
She was not sure whether the gharwapsi campaign had any connection with the attack on the church, but said it was something the police should investigate. However, she added, “it is certainly meant to scare poor people like us”.
Though members of St. Alphonsa Church were unwilling to speculate further, Father Mathew Koyickal, Chancellor of Archdiocese of Delhi, was much more forthright. “The concerted attacks on churches across Delhi are alarming and clearly against the secular fabric of the country,” he said. He added, ““We are a small minority religion in India and no fundamentalist group should feel insecure.”
Though the church authorities had filed a complaint to the police stating that the attack is a “deliberate attempt to create disharmony between the Christian community and others”, the authorities seem to have dismissed the church’s apprehensions. Delhi’s Special Commissioner of Police (Law and Order), Deepak Mishra said that a case of burglary and theft has been registered at the Vasant Kunj police station and “the matter will be investigated”.
Published by Scroll.in on February 3, 2015