Tension flares due to an alleged arson at St. Sebastian’s Church in India. Christians believe this was an attack on their faith.
Early on Monday morning, a vicious fire at St. Sebastian’s Church in Dilshad Garden, East Delhi tore through the building, destroying the main sanctuary, alter, the Cross, and the Holy Bible. A note released by the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese stated that “the night watchman had handed over charge to the day watchman at 5 am. The parish priest Father Francis was informed by the day watchman of the fire. The fire was still raging when Father Francis informed the fire brigade and the police.” While originally, the fire was ruled as a “short-circuit” accident, protests forced the police to consider the potential of arson.
Christians in India Speak Out Amid Arson Allegations
On Monday evening and Tuesday morning, around 200 protestors stood outside the Police Commissioner’s office for a candle-lit vigil to mourn the loss of the church and demand justice for the alleged arson. They protested the abrupt decision that the fire was a mere accident, believing that the violence from the past is not over. While India is primarily Hindu, roughly 2.5 percent of the population is Christian. For the most part, they live together peacefully. However, instances do arise that provoke violence and spark problems. In 1999, an Australian missionary and his two sons were burned to death in their car in eastern Orissa. In 2007, at least 3 people were killed in Orissa after violence against Christians erupted once more.
Police have since registered an FIR against unnamed persons for causing the fire with malicious intentions. According to a note from the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese, “samplers were retrieved from the inside of the church, which still smelt of fuel oil. Until late Monday evening, the police could not say they had made any progress in their investigations.” To the churchgoers, the police were not seriously considering the possibility of arson. Archbishop Couto added that, along with a judicial enquiry, the Government had to rebuild the Church by Christmas. “Also distressing,” said Couto, “is the sense of police impunity. Long hours were lost and possible evidence destroyed before the police finally came.”
The media director for the Delhi archdiocese, Father Stanley Kozhichira, is reported as saying “It was not an accident but a deliberate act.” It has been alleged that kerosene bottles were found in the sanctuary. He states that he considered it a “well-designed conspiracy hatched by anti-social groups to snatch the fundamental right of worship.”