Last Friday around 12.30 pm a group of 20 from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a Hindu fundamentalist organisation, stormed the ‘Church of God’ in Bhayander, close to the Navghar police station.
According to eyewitness accounts, the hoodlums forced their way into the church shouting slogans like “Jai Hind; Jai Maharashtra; Jai Bajrang Bali”.
After claiming to be from the VHP they said they had information that conversions took place in that church. They then shouted vulgarities and insults and began beating those present. They manhandled the church’s pastor, Rev Felix Fernandes, shoving and pushing him around, stripped and beat him senseless, leaving him unconscious in the street.
Abraham Mathai, deputy chairman of the State Minorities Commission, said the church that was attacked opened 20 years ago.
“These attacks,” he told AsiaNews, “will continue as long as police do not really track the culprits. These Fascist groups are turning our secular democracy into a mobocracy.”
For Mgr Percival Fernandes, auxiliary bishop of Bombay and former secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, this uncalled for attack was a “terrorist” act.
“These actions have only one purpose, i.e. create and maintain fear and anxiety in the people and communities attacked,” he said. “Terrorism is rooted in ideas and is nurtured by hate propaganda. We who want peace must stop them by all means at our disposal. Let us hope that politicians will not use these violent means to get votes.”
This is the first time that a church is attacked in Mumbai since last August when a wave of violence hit Christians, first in the state of Orissa and then other Indian states (Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisghar, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala).
Rev Lovson Kurien, 40, member of the Pentecostal Church, saw the latest attack.
“The group of attackers fled when police arrived,” he said. “Eventually they took poor Reverend Felix to hospital. There were around 40,000 rupees (about US$ 10,000) worth in damages to the church.
Police arrested about 20 people in connection with the attack, including a woman, from the radical Hindu group Shiv Sena, and launched and an investigation into the affair.