Pre-Poll Communal Violence in Delhi, Part II: Why the Multiple Attacks on Delhi Churches are a Cause for Concern

05 February 2015
Delhi Police officers investigate the attack on St Alphonsa church in Vasant Kunj on 2 February 2015. This was the fifth attack on a church since last December and came just five days before the Delhi assembly elections.
Photo by Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Image
Delhi Police officers investigate the attack on St Alphonsa church in Vasant Kunj on 2 February 2015. This was the fifth attack on a church since last December and came just five days before the Delhi assembly elections.
Photo by Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Image

St Alphonsa, a large church nestled among opulent farmhouses near the Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences in south Delhi, was the latest casualty in the recent attacks on Christian institutions in the city. In the fifth such attack to have taken place in the nine weeks leading up to the assembly elections, the secluded church was vandalised just before dawn on Monday, 2 February 2015, by unidentified attackers. The miscreants stole some items and desecrated religious equipment, including the monstrance and the ciborium—sacred vessels that are crucial to the act of prayer. This incident follows alleged arson attacks on churches in Rohini and Dilshad Garden along with acts of vandalism in Jasola and Vikaspuri. When I reached the church at around 11 am on Monday morning, Kerala’s home minister—Ramesh Chennithala from the Congress party—was talking to a group of about ten journalists just outside the church compound. Chennithala promised to write to the lieutenant governor of Delhi about the increasing incidents.

Inside St Alphonsa, a visibly agitated Father Vincent Salvatore was addressing a dozen reporters and police officers. He was upset with the administration’s inaction in all the recent incidents. “Police seems to be hand-in-glove (with the perpetrators),” he said. “Ek kaan se sunte hain, doosre se nikaal dete hain” (What goes in through one ear, comes out the other).

Salvatore then turned his attention to the local Congress candidate for the upcoming elections, Satbir Singh, who was visibly low-spirited. A few minutes later, as he talked to Singh, Salvotore remarked on how even though Obama had made a point to bring up the importance of religious harmony on his trip to India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s refusal to comment on these incidents was worrying for the Christian community. “Silence gives consent,” he said, before adding, “We are peace-loving people. If it had been another community, Muslims, khoon kharaba ho jaata” (Blood would have been shed).

Salvatore isn’t completely off the mark. While the identity of those behind these attacks largely remains a mystery, the failure of the current government to curb or successfully investigate these incidents appears to have encouraged their recurrence.

Salvatore’s view was echoed by at least three more members of the church who had gathered there after they heard of the incident. While the chancellor of the Delhi archdiocese, Father Mathew Koyickal, said that these attacks showed a “clear pattern,” my visits to three of these five sites suggested that the details might be different.

Krishn Kaushik  was formerly a staff writer at The Caravan.

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