Jabalpur/Mumbai: A cathedral premises and a Catholic school where people had gathered for a religious convention were vandalised allegedly by Hindu activists at Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh, the second incident to come to light after yesterday’s attack on a church in neighbouring Maharashtra, drawing outrage from the Christian community.
No arrests have been made so far in connection with the Jabalpur incident which took place on March 20 and the wee hours of March 21, when some members of the Christian community were allegedly assaulted and threatened by members of Bajrang Dal and Dharam Sena who attacked the school and a parsonage alleging that religious conversion had been taking place there.
There was also no breakthrough in the probe into the church attack in New Panvel area in Navi Mumbai though police were grilling some suspects.
The CCTV footage showed that the attack was carried out by two masked persons who were riding pillion on a motorcycle at around 1.30 AM yesterday when they hurled stones at the Saint George Catholic church located near a bridge in New Panvel.
There are no eyewitnesses to the incident and the scanning of CCTV footage has also not thrown up any substantial leads to identity the attackers, police said.
However, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said that the culprits will be nabbed soon.
In Jabalpur, police booked a leader of Dharma Sena and some others but church authorities questioned the “delay” in arresting the culprits.
“Dharma Sena leader Yogesh Agrawal and Raju Rai and a few others have been booked under relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code and efforts are on to track down and arrest them,” Jabalpur Superintendent of Police HC Mishra told PTI today.
The church authorities alleged that the miscreants stormed into the Cathedral premises and a school housing a grotto with St Mary’s idol.
They broke earthen pots and and shattered glass panes of windows of the parsonage, accusing Father Thankachan Jose of converting the Hindus to Christianity.
Ravi Francis, claiming to be a witness, said he was roughed up by Dharma Sena and Bajrang Dal activists who stormed into Saint Thomas School campus, where some people who came for a convention were staying.
Though Fr Thankachan and police officials held talks with leaders of the Hindu outfits to ease the situation, some of them stormed into the premises and started abusing them, he alleged.
Police sought to chase them from the campus but they refused to give in and marched to the nearby Saint Peter and Paul Cathedral where the first day of the convention was held.
They then barged into the Cathedral premises shouting ‘Jai Shree Ram’ and demanded that Fr Thankachan be handed over to them. As they could not find him there, they vandalised the parsonage, close to the Cathedral, Francis said.
“Though our Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, it is being violated openly,” Fr Thankachan said, adding that the church had given to police the CCTV footage of the incident.
Congress leader Manish Tewari slammed the attacks as “part of an orchestrated campaign” and a “conspiracy by the right wing to terrorise the minorities”.
The Nationalist Congress Party demanded that the governments at the Centre and in the states take serious note of such “mischievous activities” which damage the democratic fabric of the country.
Archbishop of Goa Rev Filipe Nery Ferrao said the Christian community felt “intimidated and unsafe” in the wake of the attacks.
Referring to the attacks on churches and the VHP’s “Ghar Wapsi”, the Archbishop said, “It is an undeniable fact that Christians feel intimidated and unsafe in many parts of the country due to the ongoing incidents that pose a big threat to the unity of this secular nation.”
The incidents come close on the heels of an under- construction church in Kaimri village near Hisar in Haryana being vandalised by a group, triggering tension in the area.
Earlier, after a string of church attacks in the national capital, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had assured at a religious congregation that his government will not allow any religious group to incite hatred and will strongly act against any religious violence.
The Prime Minister, who has been accused by opposition and Christian groups of turning a blind eye to such attacks on five churches and a Christian school in Delhi, had said his government “gives equal respect to all religions”.
Meanwhile, Jabalpur IG of Police D Sriniwas Rao told reporters that those indulging in unlawful activities would not be spared. “We are going to arrest the accused soon,” he added.
Narrating the incident, Francis claimed the episode ended only after a large police contingent was deployed around the premises.
“They came to the Cathedral premises around 9 PM on March 20. They created such a scare that we had to hide ourselves till 4 AM of March 21, by when a large contingent of police had been deployed around the campus,” he said.
Security has been stepped up at religious places in Navi Mumbai after yesterday’s attack.
“We are questioning several people on grounds of suspicion of their involvement in the crime. However, we are yet to lay our hands on concrete clues,” Assistant Police Commissioner S B Suryavanshi said.
Asked about clues from the CCTV footage, he said, “The attackers covered their faces. There is nothing much to get from the CCTV.”
However, offences have been registered against the unidentified men under sections 295 (injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class) and 427 (mischief) of the IPC, police said.
The church was built in 2007 and can accommodate over 800 people for prayer.
The masked miscreants, who came on a motorcycle in the wee hours yesterday, hurled stones at the Saint George Catholic church of the Syro Malabar hierarchy, damaging the glass case of the statue of Saint George.