ucanews.com reporter, DelhiUpdated: April 15, 2015 09:27 PM GMT
Suspected Hindu hardliners have vandalized church in Agra a day after India's finance minister Arul Jaitly described a series of attacks on churches and Christians in recent months as criminal acts and not hate crimes.
Vandals broke open the gates of St Mary's Church in the city that’s home to the Taj Mahal and destroyed two statues on Thursday morning, parish priest Eugene Lazarus told ucanews.com.
The priest said he was awoken at about 3:30am by his car alarm and found all four of its doors open and windscreen smashed.
Later he saw the open church gate and destroyed statues, which had been housed in glass cases in the grottos of the church.
"One statue was made from fiberglass and they could not smash it. They seemed to have put a dog leash round the neck of the statue and pulled it from its stand," the priest said.
He said the 93-year old parish church has no history of any sectarian tension.
"People lived here peacefully. The church is open for all people, and even Hindus come and pray in the church," he said.
"It was such a friendly atmosphere that we did not even think of having a guard for the church," he added.
An archdiocese official said they suspect the incident was part of a spate of anti-Christian attacks that have taken place across India since the Hindu nationalist BJP came to power almost a year ago.
Since December, at least six churches in Delhi have been vandalized and there have been scores of other anti-Christian attacks in India, including the rape of an elderly nun. Christian leaders say the incidents were hate crimes by Hindu fanatics.
However, Minister Jaitly told a television news channel on Tuesday that the government believes "all the incidents were law and order problems".
Police have arrested four migrants from Bangladesh for the rape last month of the nun in West Bengal state.
Jaitly said not "a single case [attack] was carried out by the majority community ... nor were they of a political nature or communal."
Christian leaders like Fr Dominic Emmanuel, spokesperson for Delhi archdiocese, questioned the validity of Jaitly's statement.
"How can he make such statements? He may say the attacks are not communal, but how can he be so sure that they are not by the majority community? Is he suggesting minority communities are attacking Christians?" he said.
"I seriously suspect these attacks, including the one in Agra, are part of an anti-Christian campaign," the priest said.