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Is The Vandalism Of This Church In Agra Part Of A Disturbing Pattern?

Posted on April 21, 2015 in Politics

By Bhanvi Satija:

On 16th April 2015, Father Moon Lazarus, the Parish Priest of St Mary’s Church situated in Agra, woke up to his car’s anti-theft alarm around 3 AM in the morning. He ran outside his room along with other people from the Church campus. They all saw the broken window panes of the car. They also spotted some people running out from the boundary of the church. When they shouted at the unidentified people, they ran faster while everyone stood there in a state of utter shock and despair. Here’s what the attackers did to the church:

Right: Mother Mary’s statue with the leash around it; Center : broken statue of Baby Jesus; Left: a giant glass box near the main gate of the Church, which had Mother Mary’s statue inside Picture Credits : John Dayal
Right: Mother Mary’s statue with the leash around it; Center : broken statue of Baby Jesus; Left: a giant glass box near the main gate of the Church, which had Mother Mary’s statue inside
Picture Credits : John Dayal

The extent of damage which the attackers had caused to the Church was soon realised. Four statues of Mother Mary were found broken. The head of the Baby Jesus statue was broken and as per the recorded FIR, it was placed in Mother Mary’s hand. What was even more worrying was that one of the statues of Mother Mary had a dog chain around the neck. The attack caused outrage and anguish. Members of the local Christian community took out a peaceful candle march in the evening, as reported by The Hindu.

Father Lazarus, who reported the first statement to the police, also said that the manner in which the statues of Jesus and Mother Mary were damaged showed it was to “provoke” the Christians. The FIR has been lodged under various relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code including Sections 295 (injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class) and 153 A (promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion, race etc). “It has been observed since last many days that Christians are targeted and their churches are vandalized which has created fear in our community”, he told the police.

The Agra church attack is part of a disturbing pattern – we see more and more places of worships of the minorities come under such systematic attacks. This is not an isolated incident alone: since the beginning of this year, churches have been attacked in Delhi and Mangalore. This is not some mere instance of robbery or vandalism – clearly, the attack has been carried out in an extremely symbolic way and with a view of stoking communal tensions, and causing the religious minorities to live in a constant state of threat. This is happening in a country that witnessed some of the worst anti-Christian violence in the Dangs district in Gujarat, in Orissa and in coastal Karnataka. Violence against the Christians has also affected the most impoverished and marginalized among them: fisherfolk, tribals and Dalits. The state should not allow a free run to these fundamentalist elements who launch these attacks if it wants to prove its secular credentials”, writer and activist Meena Kandasamy told Youth Ki Awaaz.

The recent developments on the incident, as reported by the Indian Express, include the fact that the police is trying to look at various causes for the incident, including that it could possibly be an act of revenge over admissions to missionary schools in the area, as they are underway. “We are questioning priests of the church and other churches around the area to ascertain if there were any differences with locals regarding admission of their children to missionary schools. We cannot rule out any angle. As of now, we are not pursuing the case on lines of only a religious attack,” said a senior police.

The police is currently tracking suspicious phone numbers, around 150 of them after they were found to be in use while the incident took place. Meanwhile, there are reports that the police is planning to invoke the stringent National Security Act against the ones who will be found guilty in the case. There is pressure from the community in Agra for the police to investigate into the case and apprehend the culprits – the city has been one of the few peaceful cities and such incidents are rare here.