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By ICC's India Correspondent
International Christian Concern
St. Sebastian Church, located in the Dilshan Garden area near India's capital, New Delhi, was burnt down by unknown assailants in the early hours of December 1, 2014.
Witnesses noticed flames and smoke coming from the church at about 6 a.m., but by then everything inside the church had been burnt to ashes including the pulpit, alter, benches, Bibles and other Christian literature. By the time fire brigade doused the flames, all of the furniture inside the church was reduced to ashes as well. According to eyewitnesses, they found a kerosene container and also smelled kerosene fumes coming from the church.
The church premises were sealed and taken over by local police so that an investigation could begin. In response to the burning of St. Sebastian Church, the government of India has set up a special investigation team to look into the cause of the fire.
On December 2, Christians from all denominations, and Christian organizations from across New Delhi participated in a rally condemning the incident. Fr. Savirimuthu Sankar, Spokesperson and PRO of the diocese told ICC that, "[The] Special investigation Team was constituted by the Government of India and the government promised that if the incident is proven to be arson not an accident, the government will pay the compensation for the damage."
According to Fr. Sankar, the time frame for the investigation to be completed is two months. Fr. Sankar went on to say that, "there is a sharp increase of incidents of religiously motivated attacks in the last six months, after the new government took over the power under Narendra Modi's leadership." He said that, "there is growing concern among the Christian minorities, the incident of St. Sebastian Church further left Christians troubled."
Rev. Victor Das, a Christian leader from Delhi said that, "There is a larger scheme for anti-social elements burning of St. Sebastian Church in Dilshan Garden in the national capital. The incident has shaken the whole Christian community, particularly the independent and house churches." He said, "If they can attack a well-established and one of the largest churches in New Delhi, we can understand the vulnerable status of small independent churches."
Prior to the burning of St. Sebastian Church, sources told ICC that around midnight on the November 29th unidentified people tried to break into the convent in Rohini's Sector 29. When dogs were heard barking, the convent sisters got up to check what was going on and heard people talking outside of the convent. The sisters immediately informed police.
"The time has come to face attacks," another local Christian told ICC. "The Hindu radicals can come at any time." This sentiment of fear is shared by many in the Christian community of India. As the number of attacks on Christians and other religious minorities continues to skyrocket, many wonder when and if the government will intervene. Going into this holiday season, remember to pray for your brothers and sisters in India.
For interviews, contact William Stark, Regional Manager for South Asia: RMSAsia@persecution.org
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