Christians perform a re-enactment of the crucifixion on Good Friday in India’s financial hub Mumbai, on Apr 7 (Photo: AFP)

By Michael Gonsalves

Oct 11 2023

Christian leaders in poll-bound India have condemned the desecration of a prayer hall on the outskirts of India’s financial hub Mumbai.

They have urged police to nab the perpetrators for ransacking and defacing a Protestant assembly hall in Thane, around 45 kilometers away from Mumbai in western Maharashtra state.

The Maharashtra police on Oct. 6 told reporters that a probe is on to arrest the “unidentified miscreants,” who allegedly vandalized the prayer hall in the Tulsidham area in Thane under the Bombay archdiocese

Bombay, the name given by colonial Britain in the 17th century, was changed to Mumbai when a pro-Hindu party government headed Maharashtra in 1996.

Nobody has been arrested till now in the case, registered under Section 295A (deliberate and malicious acts to outrage religious feelings) of the Indian Penal Code, police admitted.

The attack on “a place of worship is disturbing,” Father Nigel Barett, spokesperson of the Bombay archdiocese, the largest diocese in the country, told UCA News.

What is more disturbing is that “such incidents occur when elections are around the corner” to polarize voters, Barett added.

A woman from the Protestant church lodged a police complaint on Oct. 5 after she found the assembly hall premises ransacked.

Mud was smeared at the entrance, the cross defaced, windows smashed, electric meters tampered with, and a banner with derogatory remarks was put up at the entrance, the 63-year-old woman said in the complaint.

In Maharashtra, the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi shares power with its local partners.

Maharashtra, India’s most industrialized state, sends 48 lawmakers to India’s 545-member lower house or the Lok Sabha.

At next year’s polls, slated for April, the BJP is seeking a third term under the leadership of Modi.

“It is shocking that Maharashtra state with a cosmopolitan and progressive outlook is turning into a hate-mongering state against the minority Christians” because the ruling pro-Hindu government is allowing it “to happen to polarize voters,” Dolphy D’Souza, president of the Bombay Catholic Sabha (body) said in a statement on Oct. 9.

Joseph Dias, founder-president of the Catholic Secular Forum, concurred with D’Souza, saying the attack was meant to consolidate the majority Hindu votes before the nation goes to vote next year.

“It is shocking that police have not yet arrested a single person,” Dias said.

Melwyn Fernandes, general secretary of the Association of Concerned Christians, told UCA News that the pro-Hindu government in Maharashtra is targeting Christians with a divisive strategy. 

We are left “with no choice but to knock on the doors of courts,” he said.

Abraham Mathai, a former vice-chairman of the Maharashtra Minorities Commission, said it was shocking that Christians are being targeted for no fault of theirs.

Christians make up a mere 2.3 percent of India’s 1.3 billion population but they account for 40 percent of social work and rural development in the country, Mathai claimed.

Christians account for 0.96 percent of Maharashtra’s 126. 5 million population. There are around half a million Catholics in Bombay archdiocese. – UCA News