EFI News: Christians in India bear the brunt of religious extremism

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Church burnt in Punjab

According to media reports, an irate mob of Muslims set a church on fire on late Sunday night, September 12, 2010 in the state of Punjab. According to reports, communal violence erupted in Muslim dominated Malerkotla town of Punjab.  Following rumours of burning of a Quran in the US, a mob gathered and proceeded to the town's only church in Loha Bazar, shouting slogans against the US government. The mob then set furniture of the church on fire before the police intervened.

H.S. Bhullar SP Sangrur district said that police reinforcement was rushed to spot after getting reports of the unrest.  The district authorities imposed curfew to contain the violence. A First Information Report has been lodged under section S.295A & 307 of the Indian Penal Code. As on press time, no arrests had been made.

According to local sources on Monday, meeting between members of the different communities had been planned to resolve the issue.

Christian school  gutted in Kashmir
In a separate incident, angry mobs in north Kashmir Tangmarg town, torched a Christian missionary school of the Tyndale Biscoe and Mallinson Educational Society,  the office of the social welfare department and a police vehicle on September 13.

Large crowds also gathered in Shalteng, Ompora, Bemina and other places of Srinagar city, defying  the ongoing curfew imposed in the wake of widespread violence, shouting pro-Quran and anti-America slogans. Pro-Islam and anti-US protests were also held at Humhama, Ompora, Shalteng, Shalimar, Newthead and other places in Srinagar.

Media quoted locals as saying that an Iranian television news channel announced late Sunday that a copy of the Quran had been burnt in the US.

In a statement to the press, Chief Secretary SS Kapur,  described as "unfortunate" the arson attack on a Christian missionary school. " We appeal to the people not to heed unverified reports about the alleged desecration of the Holy Quran which have only been aired by Press TV and no other television news channel in the world. These rumours are spread by anti-social elements with nefarious designs and people should not heed these," he said.

Bishop Pradeep Kumar Samantaroy, Church of North India told EFI that  “the school students are not hurt.  The building has totally burnt down. It was entirely made of wood. Though the officials were informed of a possible attack and requested for safety there was no action taken. The mob even stopped the fire brigade from reaching the spot.”

The tension started on Sunday evening following rumours that the Quran has been burnt in Michigan, US.A pastor in Florida threatened to burn copies of the Quran on the anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks. However the Pastor had backed out from his plans following an appeal by US President Barack Obama.

The National United Christian Forum, comprising of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference in India and the National Council of Church of India and the Evangelical Fellowship of India, had condemned the plan to burn copies of the Quran in USA.  In a statement it  recalled “the experiences of solidarity and the sense of mutual self-respect shared between the peoples of Muslim and Christian communities in India at all times and particularly when issues relating to religious minorities.”

Church service disrupted in Uttar Pradesh
On September 12, at around 11.30 am a mob of approximately 35 members  of Arya Samaj sect of Hinduism disrupted a church service in Naggal in the Saharanpur District of Uttar Pradesh.

Pastor Rockwell Louis of Masih Satsang Mandali in Naggal, reported to EFI, “while the Church service was in progress the mob entered the room where worship was conducted. They started arguing with the pastor and Church people and blaming for converting people.”  Though the members tried to reason with the mob that they are following Christ in exercise of their freedom of conscience and because they have been personally blessed by Christ. The mob refused to listen and kept arguing.

“Only after the police’s intervention did the mob finally leave” said Louis  “they would have been violent if the police was not there.”

Earlier on September 5, a same group along with their leader had disturbed Church service.  They accused the pastor of eating meat and converting people. The mob argued that the Bible is wrong and presents a false God. They had warned that they would return September 12 and would not allow Sunday worship service to take place.

Apprehending further trouble, Pastor Louis reported the matter to police and asked for protection. Two police constables had been deployed to protect the Christians.

EFI requests your prayers for communal harmony in the state of Punjab,  Jammu and Kashmir and Uttar Pradesh.

Issued by
Rev. Dr. Richard Howell
General Secretary
Evangelical Fellowship of India