It has been two years since Delhi witnessed incidents of several churches being vandalized. With the passage of time, normalcy seems to have returned to the churches, with preparations for Christmas in full swing. Police presence outside these churches, and a hint of disbelief in people’s voices when they think of those times are the only giveaways of the awful incidents that happened.
Stella Ekka, who regularly visits the Saint Sebastian Church in north-east Delhi’s Dilshad Garden area, still remembers the incident. The first church to be vandalized in what would be a series of attacks, was completely gutted in the morning of December 1, 2014. While the police initially claimed that it was an accident, the parishioners had alleged that it was a case of arson. The SIT (Special Investigation Team) formed to look into the case was still investigating it until July 2015, as per an answer given in the Parliament.
Ekka says It was the residents of the area who had informed the police about the fire. Despite the cause of fire still not known, Ekka told YKA that it was “very shocking” because of the other acts of vandalism that followed. “What was more shocking for people was the fact that they could not think of what to do as a first step,” she says.
Two years later, a new building has risen in place of the old. The building is nearly complete, and likely to be put in use by January, when service will again begin. The congregation still meets, Ekka told YKA, but at the Mother Teresa Convent nearby or at a chapel next to the Saint Sebastian Church.
At the Church of Resurrection in North-West Delhi’s Rohini, where a Christmas crib was burnt in January 2015, Kuldeep Kumar, is busy decorating an artificial Christmas tree. Kumar, now a retired bureaucrat, is Hindu by birth and religion. He says he got affectionately attached to the Church while it was getting built, since he lives right across it. He also shared a cordial relationship with the priest administering the church. Police said the incident happened due to a short-circuit in the building. The case was later closed. A spokesperson for the church had initially claimed that CCTV footage showed something being thrown inside the church premises.
“No religion is bad. We ourselves are guilty,” Kumar says, adding that he “totally condemns” such behaviour towards any religion.
Security has also been stepped up in most places post the attacks. Kumar told YKA that police patrol the area more often now. For an year after the alleged attack, Kumar says, a constable was also assigned specifically for the church. “But why should the need for police arise? Don’t all religions teach us that we should take care of each other?“ Kumar asks.
Police also continues to be stationed outside the Church of Our Lady of Graces in Vikaspuri. The church is situated next to an Arya Samaj temple and was vandalised on January 14, 2015. According to reports, the incident occurred as a result of a group of drunken men placing bets amongst each other. A glass pane and a statue of Mary were destroyed during the incident. The accused in this case were promptly arrested, confessed, and a chargesheet too filed.
The incident has not had any effect on Christmas celebrations, according to Kevin Mathew, a visitor to the church for the last 18 years. When YKA visited the church, Mathew was busy giving instructions for decorations. Despite speculation of the attacks being motivated by Hindu Groups to polarize the atmosphere during the Delhi assembly elections, Mathew says there has also been no communal tension between the administration of the church and the temple.
“The temple and church priests share a very good relation. For instance, the PWD wanted to demolish the front portion of the Church to make the road wider. But the temple and Church stood together along with the congregation and we fought against it,” Mathew told YKA.
While justice remains to be served in the case of vandalism at some of the churches, Delhi seems to be heading for a merry Christmas after all.
Featured image source: PTI