Uproar in New Delhi over India church fire

A church spokesman said there was a strong smell of kerosene after the fire at Saint Sebastian’s – one of Delhi’s biggest churches which was built in 2001.
Indian Christians protest outside the Delhi police headquarters in New Delhi on December 2, 2014 after a Catholic church was badly damaged in a fire which some suspect was arson. EPA
Indian Christians protest outside the Delhi police headquarters in New Delhi on December 2, 2014 after a Catholic church was badly damaged in a fire which some suspect was arson. EPA

NEW DELHI // Hundreds of Christians protested outside the police headquarters in India’s capital on Tuesday, demanding swift investigations into a fire that destroyed a New Delhi church.

While the cause of Monday’s blaze at the St Sebastian’s church in a northeast suburb of New Delhi was not known, the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese said that “mischief” was suspected.

Police said they were investigating.

A church spokesman said there was a strong smell of kerosene after the fire at Saint Sebastian’s – one of Delhi’s biggest churches which was built in 2001.

“It is a deliberate attack. We don’t know who has done it but it was well planned,” said a spokesman for the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese, Savarimuthu Sankar.

“The electrical mains unit is intact, so there could not have been a short circuit.”

Police said they had registered a case of “mischief by fire” and were questioning various people, including the church watchman.

“The police have assured us that they will constitute a special team to investigate as early as possible and nab the culprits,” Delhi Archbishop Anil Couto said.

Hundreds of Christians gathered in front of police headquarters, with some carrying placards that read “Church burning (equals) nation burning”.

Parliamentarian Derek O’Brien called on the authorities to act quickly.

“Horrified. Angry. Saddened with news of Delhi church burnt/destroyed,” he tweeted.

While India is overwhelmingly Hindu, it is officially a secular country.

Fears of religious polarisation have grown in India since the right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party stormed to power in May.

Christians account for about 2.5 per cent of the country’s 1.2 billion people and largely coexist peacefully with Hindus.

However, the issue of conversions by Christian missionaries has sporadically provoked violence by Hindus.

In 1999, an Australian missionary and his two sons, 8 and 10, were burned to death in their car in the eastern state of Orissa following a Bible study class.

In 2007, violence against Christians flared again in Orissa, with at least 3 people killed.

* Associated Press ad Agence France-Presse

Published: December 2, 2014 04:00 AM

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