The inside of Sacred Heart Church in Narayanpur district of India’s Chhattisgarh state, which was attacked on Jan. 2 after a clash between indigenous people following animist religion and those following the Christian faith. (Photo: supplied)
Police in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh have arrested 10 persons in connection with the vandalism of a Catholic church in a village and beefed up security for the damaged church and other Catholic institutions in its vicinity.
“We have provided round-the-clock police protection to the church and a school in its compound," says Sadanand Kumar, Superintendent of police, the top police official in the sectarian violence-hit Narayanpur district.
“We have registered four different cases against the violence in the Sacred Heart Church and other institutions in its campus and subsequent violence and arrested ten persons,” the top police official told UCA News on Jan. 5, two days after the violence.
The arrested people have been remanded in judicial custody. They include leaders of the prominent pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which runs the federal government.
The state government is run by the Congress party, the BJP’s arch-rival, which swears by secular ideals.
An unruly mob of indigenous people armed with sticks, iron roads and axes marched into the compound of Sacred Heart Church on Jan. 2 and broke open its main door.
The attackers smashed the church’s glass windows and destroyed the church’s altar, crucifix and statues, besides smashing the furniture.
They also destroyed the Marian Grotto demolishing the statue of Mother Mary and the presbytery, guest rooms and stole nearly half a million rupees before they left the spot.
They also tried to force them into Church-run Vishwadeep High School on the same campus, however, police there foiled their attempt.
At least 1,000 students and their teachers were inside the school campus at the time of the violence.
The violence is seen as retaliation for the injuries suffered when two groups of indigenous people -- those following the animist religion and Christians -- fought.
Both groups have been at loggerheads for some time. But the enmity took an aggressive turn a few months ago when animists began using violence to drive out their Christian brethren from the villages of the district.
More than 1,000 indigenous Christians were forced to leave their home and took shelter in other places in the district, Christian leaders say.
Police said they are trying to establish normalcy in the area.
“We have asked the school management to reopen. We have made all security arrangements for the safety of students,” said a police officer.
The district education department also has written to the school authorities to reopen the school.
School principal Father Jomon Devasia said they are “considering opening the school” in the background of the education department’s demand and the police assurance.
“Now the situation is normal with no fresh violence,” said Father Devasia, also the parish priest of the Sacred Heart Church.
The priest told UCA News on Jan. 5 that different groups associated with the right-wing Hindu groups have called a closure strike in the Bastar region of the state, which includes the Narayanpur district.
Meanwhile, the National Lawyers Forum of Religious and Priests (NLFRP) from the Catholic Church filed a complaint with the National Commission for Minorities, a federal statutory body empowered to safeguard the interests of minorities.
Their petition has demanded action against those who attacked the church. It also sought action against those responsible for violence against Christians in the state’s Narayanpur and Kodagaon districts for the past couple of months.
Forum convenor Jesuit Father A. Santhanam, a practicing lawyer in Tamil Nadu high court in southern India, said the immediate task is to establish peace. “Violence will only lead to violence,” he said.
Christians make up less than two percent of the close to 30 million people of the state, a majority of whom are Hindu or practice the tribal faith.