Police claim man accused of vandalizing 18 crosses and tombstones is mentally disturbed
The picture shows one of the 18 crosses and tombstones vandalized inside the cemetery of St. Michael’s Church in Mumbai, the capital of India’s Maharashtra state on Jan.7. (Photo: supplied)
Police arrested a Muslim man on Jan. 8, a day after he allegedly vandalized 18 crosses and tombstones in a Catholic cemetery in Mumbai, India's commercial hub and capital of the western state of Maharashtra.
Dawood Ansari was detained after Father Bernard Lancy Pinto, parish priest at St. Michael’s Church in the city's Mahim neighborhood, made a police complaint soon after the incident, urging police to arrest the culprit.
If convicted, the accused could be in jailed for up to two years.
The police tracked down Ansari, 22, after analyzing CCTV footage.
"The motive behind his acts is not clear"
“We arrested Ansari from the Kalamboli area in Navi Mumbai for vandalizing crosses at the cemetery.... So far the motive behind his acts is not clear,” Manoj Patil, Deputy Commissioner of Police and head of the investigation team, told reporters on Jan. 8.
Patil said as per the video footage, Ansari was at the church for some time after the desecration and did not immediately flee. The police officer said it was a serious offense and all angles are being investigated to find out the culprit’s motive, including the possibility of the accused working in conspiracy with someone else.
Police also said Ansari appears to be mentally disturbed and unstable since his mother died last year and has stopped believing in God.
“We are happy that the culprit has been arrested but we want the police to look into the root cause of the vandalism and motives for entering our church premises,” Father Pinto, the parish priest, told UCA News.
Father Nigel Barrett, spokesman for the Archdioceses of Bombay, said he doubts the police claim the accused was mentally unstable.
“While we appreciated the promptness of the police in the arrest, we are hesitant to believe that this is the work of an unstable individual,” Father Barrett said.
He said the fact that he ran away to Kalamboli in Navi Mumbai is an indicator that he understood the consequences of his actions.
“Due diligence to establish the motive is necessary and the police should investigate thoroughly without attempting to pass it off as the work of a deranged individual,” Father Barrett said.
The police said the accused entered the cemetery by climbing its wall. He was carrying a marble-like object in his hand and vandalized the crosses with it. He went to the church and sat there for a while before leaving.
"We strictly do not wish to give this act a communal overtone"
A church watchman said that he was surprised to see him coming from the cemetery so early in the morning since the church gate opens at 6am. He took a photo of the man on his mobile phone which was shared with the police.
“It is regrettable and painful that the graves of Catholics were vandalized at the Church of St Michael, Mahim. The sentiments of the community are deeply hurt as this act not only involves the destruction of religious objects, but also disrespect for the dead. The police are investigating the incident,” the Archdiocese of Bombay said in a statement on Jan. 7.
“While the Church appreciates the support and assistance of various groups, we strictly do not wish to give this act a communal overtone,” it said.
Dolphy D’Souza, president of the Bombay Catholic Sabha, a Catholic forum, condemned the incident and called for the finding of the real motive.
“We urge full protection for our churches and graveyards in Mumbai,” he said.
Godfrey Pimenta, a prominent Catholic leader, and trustee of Watchdog Foundation NGO regretted that police didn’t pay heed to earlier calls for better security at religious sites.
“Symbols of Christianity are being attacked time and again. In the past, we have made a number of appeals to the Mumbai police to increase patrols in and around religious sites. We repeat and reiterate our demand that the state government installs CCTV cameras at all places of worship on priority,” he said.
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