Hundreds of Indian Christians were arrested in New Delhi on Thursday during a protest against government inaction following a series of attacks on local churches that raised fears of increasing religious intolerance in the Indian capital.
The protesters — who included nuns and priests — attempted to march from a cathedral near the country’s parliament to Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s residence, located in a high-security area where protests are banned. The protesters targeted Singh because he is responsible for maintaining domestic law and order.
The action, organized by church leaders and activists, followed an incident on Monday in which unknown persons broke into a Delhi church, desecrating property. The crime was the latest in a series of reported arsons, burglaries and acts of vandalism targeting local churches. In total, five churches have been attacked in the last two months.
“A clear pattern of orchestrated attacks is emerging as more churches are targeted, vandalized and set on fire,” Delhi Archbishop Anil Couto told reporters Thursday.
While the overwhelming majority of India’s 1.26 billion citizens are Hindu, it is officially a secular country. Christians, who comprise only about 2.3 percent (28 million) of the population, say attacks on churches have increased since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept national elections last May.
Though hate groups have targeted Indian Christians in the past, some experts say the BJP’s victory has bolstered their activities.
“Since the elections, certain more anti-Christian groups in India have gotten emboldened and have engaged in somewhat more provocative acts,” Chad Bauman, an associate professor of religion at Butler University who studies Hindu-Christian relations, told Al Jazeera.
Following the recent attacks, church leaders and activists are demanding that authorities establish an independent panel to investigate hate crimes carried out against the Christian community.
“We don’t trust the police to conduct an impartial inquiry. We want a panel headed by a high court judge to investigate these attacks,” said human rights activist John Dayal, who was among those arrested Thursday. “Our demand is for justice and security for the Christian community.”
By Philip J. Victor & Wire Services – Al Jazeera –