03/10/2016, 16.42
INDIA
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Pune: thugs burn Bible and sacred texts in front of Our Lady of Fatima grotto

The arson attack took place early yesterday morning. The Grotto of Our Lady is part of the St Sebastian Church, but is located on a private property outside the building. The owner of the land, a Christian activist, filed a complaint. Since “no valuables had been stolen,” said the owner, “we realised that the act was done only to offend our religious feelings”. Meanwhile, parishioners set up private security.

Pune (AsiaNews) – Unknown thugs broke into the St Sebastian Church at dawn yesterday in Daund, a town some 80 km from Pune (Maharashtra), and set fire to the Bible, sacred books and religious sheet music in front of the Grotto of Our Lady Fatima.

Although police are on the case, the authorities have downplayed the seriousness of the incident; yet, the way the attack was carried out suggests a premeditated act against the town’s Christian minority.

Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), spoke to AsiaNews about the attack. "The GCIC strongly condemns the desecration and burning of the Bible and other books,” Mr George said.

“Arson in front of the grotto is deplorable and is an act of sacrilege dictated by hatred. We ask the government to arrest the culprits immediately."

What is more, "Such incidents in the period of Lent create tensions and disturb the solemnity of the religious celebration,” the Christian leader said.

Raymond Dias, a Christian activist, filed a complaint. The grotto is located on his property and was built by his father.

"My father installed a statue of the Virgin Mary, which is open to everyone,” Mr Dias explained. “It is located in a shed three-metre high. A plastic box that contains texts in different languages is in front of it."

When police came to investigate, he told them that he woke up early, "as he does every day," and saw smoke "coming from the grotto."

When he approached it, he noted that "someone had put some old clothes on the plastic box and set them the fire. There was a tulsi*plant in a clay pot and a bindi** on the glass container that holds the statue.

“I went to call other people,” he said, “and we found that no valuables had been stolen. So we realised that the act was done only to offend our religious feelings. The statue has a silver crown and several other valuable items, but nothing was touched."

Police Superintendent Tanaji Chikhale registered a First Information Report (FIR) against person or persons unknown. “Prime facie, we suspect mischief,” he said. “So far, we have no clues, but our team is analysing the CCTV cameras installed on adjacent buildings."

The superintendent also said that a committee of parishioners from Daund’s 25 churches plans to adopt security measures to protect the grottos located in open spaces outside their churches.

Sajan K George fears that such a private initiative by the faithful might not be sufficient to curb the violence. For him, what happened in August of last year in Pimpri-Kalewadi, also in Maharashtra, illustrates the situation.

"Some right-wing elements disrupted a Pentecostal prayer gathering, beat up Christians and cut the church’s electrical wires,” he said.

“The next day, the pastor installed safety locks on the door, but an even larger group forced its way into the building and beat up the Christians present. The pastor filed a complaint and the third day police provided protection for the gathering." (NC)

*Tulsi is an aromatic basil that is used in Hindu rituals.

** A bindi is a red dot Hindu women wear in the centre of their forehead.

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