Mumbai (AsiaNews) - This morning, Delhi police stopped, beat and detained dozens of priests, nuns and lay people (including women, seniors and children) who were participating in a peaceful protest in front of the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart.
Protesters were marching in silence to protest against the attacks on Catholic churches in the city over the past two months. Police justified their heavy-handed intervention by saying that the gathering was "illegal."
"What happened today is a shameful stain on secular and democratic India," Card Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Mumbai, told AsiaNews.
Several Christian groups had organised the silent march that was supposed to end in front of the residence of Home Minister Rajnath Singh. However, hundreds of police showed up to stop them.
An elderly woman who had fallen was picked up by four policewomen and thrown into a police van.
"People were detained. No one has the right to protest on the road," said senior police officer Mukesh Kumar Meena. "They cannot just march to the Home minister's residence. We have to protect the residence of VIPs."
The archbishop of Mumbai, who is also president of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC), noted "the way in which our women religious were treated, women who consecrated their lives to God dragged away like criminals. Not even children were spared. "
"Christians constitute less than 2 per cent of India's population," Card Gracias said. "In Delhi they are just over 100,000 [out of 25 million residents]."
"They are a peaceful and law-abiding community. Our educational institutions and health facilities are at the service of the nation. Yet, in response to tens of decades of nation building, our women religious, our priests and our people are treated like criminals. This is a shame, a disgrace and a stain on our motherland."
Even Sajan George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), slammed the "repressive action by the police."
"What happened today," he told AsiaNews, "is a sign that the atrocities against the tiny Christian community continue to escalate, whilst the authorities remain silent before the growing intolerance".
Meanwhile, "The Indian Government this week denied entry permits (visa) to Archbishop Arthur Roche and Archbishop Protase Rugambwa , who were scheduled to attend a conference on 'Liturgy and Life' in Bangalore between 3 and 9 February," Sajan George said.
"The two Vatican officials had applied for their Visa's in mid-December but were turned down. No reason is cited for the denial of visas."
Mgr Roche is the secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. Mgr Rugambwa is an official with the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples.