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Indian Christians slam Delhi communal violence

Christian leaders call for churches to open their doors to victims of the worst unrest in three decades

Indian Christians slam Delhi communal violence

A firefighter vehicle is parked near burnt-out premises following clashes between people supporting and opposing a contentious amendment to India's citizenship law in New Delhi on Feb. 26. (Photo: Sajjad Hussain/AFP)

Christian leaders from different denominations in New Delhi have condemned the communal violence in the Indian capital and asked churches to open their doors to victims of the riots.

The violence that started on Feb. 23 in several areas of northeast Delhi has left 27 people dead and over 200 injured in the deadliest episode of unrest in the capital in three decades.

“At this trying moment when communal riots have suddenly gripped Delhi, let us come forward with our prayers and every possible effort to bring relief to the affected people in terms of shelter, food and clothing,” an appeal letter from Archbishop Anil Joseph Thomas Couto of Delhi said.

In his letter addressed to the parish priests, Archbishop Couto said churches should open their premises "for this noble cause in the Lenten season. Please convey this to our people and organize them for action.”

The three days of violence, which erupted on Feb. 23, are the worst unrest since the 1992 nationwide riots following the demolition of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh, and possibly since the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 after the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi, media reports said.

The clashes broke out after groups favoring the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) clashed with groups protesting against it.

The CAA, passed on Dec. 11 last year, aims to grant Indian citizenship to persecuted minorities from Muslim-majority Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan while blocking naturalization for Muslims.

Muslims see their exclusion from the law that makes religion the basis of citizenship as yet another attempt by the Narendra Modi government to marginalize them.

Coupled with the proposed nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC), the community fears the moves are intended to strip millions of Indian Muslims of citizenship. People from other disadvantaged caste and gender identities as well as women are vulnerable to the NRC.

The communal riots in the last three days have seen hundreds of vehicles, shops and homes burned. The streets of Chand Bagh and Bhajanpura were deserted on Feb. 26, with people peeping from the windows of their homes and a heavy deployment of police and paramilitary forces.

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Bricks and stones littered the streets, while shattered glass, burnt homes, offices, showrooms and vehicles clearly indicated the intensity of the violence. Eighteen first information reports at various police stations had been registered and 106 people arrested over the violence, Delhi police said.

“Humanity has been knocked down one more time, our houses burned, our kindred killed, our peace destroyed, and future betrayed,” said a Feb. 26 statement from the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI), the forum of Protestant and Orthodox churches in India.

“We appeal to members of the different Christian traditions to facilitate each other, and all others of different faith traditions and ideological persuasions in their neighborhoods, to rise from the ashes,” said the statement, which was signed by Rev. Asir Ebenezer, general secretary.

The statement condemned "the dastardly attack on the vulnerable and the weak in different locations of Delhi, the explicit or implicit complicity and tacit approval of those in power and authority.”

The NCCI also appealed to churches and Christian organizations in affected areas to respond appropriately to those in need.

The Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), the national alliance of evangelical Christians, condemned the “reprehensible violence and killing as the work of vested political interests and forces of hate."

The EFI statement signed by its general secretary Rev. Vijayesh Lal appealed to the people of Delhi to “maintain peace and not to give in to vicious vitriol fed by rumors and spread through social media. We must not let hate win.”

It also asked its congregations in Delhi area to open "their hearts and facilities for the afflicted and to come to the aid of the helpless and distraught. This would be our act of service unto our Lord, this Lenten season.” 

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