New Delhi: A Catholic church in East Delhi’s Dilshad Garden area, St Sebastian’s Church, was completely gutted in a fire this morning. Church authorities alleged the fire was an attempt at triggering religious polarisation ahead of the Delhi polls, likely early next year.
On the complaint of Church priest Fr. Anthony Francis, the police have registered an FIR against unknown outsiders for causing the fire with malicious intent. Senior officers of Delhi police, the Special Branch and the Forensic Crime unit came to the spot after many hours, and once the agitated members of the Catholic community blocked the roads in the area. Samples were retrieved from the inside of the church, which was still smelling of fuel oil.
The forensic team found traces of kerosene inside the church premises, which led the police to conclude that the attack was pre-meditated.
A case of “mischief by fire” has been lodged and the police are questioning several persons, among them the watchman of the church.
The police will come out with a final report after the forensic team finalises its findings.
The authorities found out about the fire around 6.30 am after the watchman, who came in for work around that time, informed them. There was no security guard at the church between 5 and 6 am, which was when the authorities thought the fire started.
There was no casualty since the church was empty at the time.
“It seems to be a deliberate act as we could smell kerosene on the spot. It has been a very emotional day for us,” Father Stanley Kozhichira, of the Delhi archdiocese told the media.
Delhi Archbishop Rev. Anil Couto, has in a memorandum to Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Mr. Rajnath Singh, called on them to urgently order a judicial enquiry into the burning.
Addressing the media, Archbishop Couto said apart from the judicial enquiry, the government must repair the building before Christmas, ensure that policemen guilty of dereliction of duty are punished, and special police investigation teams are set up to trace the guilty.
The church was built in 2001. Almost 3000 people attend the Sunday mass.
The Christian community cutting across denominations, and civil society have decided to protest at the offices of the Police Commissioner of Delhi on Tuesday morning to focus attention on the attempts to polarize the people in Delhi state which goes to the polls soon, and the continued persecution of Christians in Madhya Pradesh, Chhatishgarh and other tribal and rural areas.
On Sunday, 30th November 21014, two house churches in Annupur district of Madhya Pradesh were attacked. Earlier in November, catholic priests in the Bastar region in Chhatisgarh were told all their schools were to install statues of Goddess Saraswati and they would not be allowed to be called “Father”, the usual honorific, by the students, but would be called “Acharya”. In other districts of Chhartisgarh, village panchayats under political influence have passed regulations banning non-Hindu religious persons from organising prayers or opening places of worship in their territory.