Church protest hits traffic around ITO

Traffic was thrown out of gear for over two hours near Delhi Police headquarters in central Delhi when around 3,000 Christian protesters demanded swift action against the culprits who they alleged had deliberately burnt St Sebastian’s Church in east Delhi.

Commuters using roads linking New Delhi with east Delhi, Noida and Ghaziabad were effected due to which traffic police diverted routes between Delhi Secretariat and Tilak Bridge crossing. Additional deployment of police was made to ensure smooth traffic movement in the adjoining areas.

The agitated protesters, included Archbishop Anil Couto.

Catholics, Protestants, Baptists, and Methodists took part, blocking both the carriageways outside the police headquarters at ITO. Congress leader Arvinder Singh Lovely was also there.

Holding placards and banners reading “pray and let others pray”, “church burning, nation burning”, “arrest the culprits”, the protesters had gathered outside the entrance gate of the police headquarters around 10 am.

“Incidents of violence against Christians have been increasing in our country. Our rights are not defended and it is because of this reason that our religious places are being targeted by some anti-socials with an attempt to triggering religious polarisation ahead of the upcoming Delhi Assembly elections,” said Vincent D’Souza, principal of Rosary Senior Secondary School in Dhirpur.

Delhi Catholic Archdiocese spokesperson Savarimuthu Sankar said it was a matter of deep regret that local police paid little heed to repeated requests that the “scene of the crime” be investigated properly.

“No senior officer visited the spot till late in the afternoon, and the forensic team came only by the evening. In addition to the judicial enquiry, an internal departmental enquiry also must be ordered to identify officers and men guilty of dereliction of duty,” he said.

The demonstrators cleared the area around 12.45 pm, only after their delegation met Delhi Police Commissioner Bhim Sain Bassi who assured a quick probe by a special investigating team led by Joint Commissioner of Delhi Police (Crime) Ravindra Yadav.

Special Commissioner of Police (Law and Order) Deepak Mishra, accompanied by other senior officers, assured the protesters that a proper inquiry will also be conducted against the staff of the local police station.

Archbishop Couto said Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh has also given him an appointment on Wednesday. “We will put our demands before the Home Minister. Hope he fulfils them,” he said.

The community leadership has pressed its demand for a judicial enquiry by at least a sitting or retired judge of a High Court into the St Sebastian’s Church fire, but also the hate speeches and targeted violence in several states, particularly Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

“We also want the government to repair the entirely gutted church so that the Christians in the capital can celebrate the Christmas midnight mass prayer service on December 24 night,” said Dr John Dayal, a former member of National Integration Council of India and All India Christian Council.

St Sebastian’s Church in Dilshad Garden was constructed in 2001 and is among the biggest churches in the area. The fire was reported on Monday morning and the entire interior, including the altar, the Holy Bible and cross were reduced to ashes.

On the complaint of church priest Anthony Francis, police have registered an FIR against unidentified persons for causing the fire with malicious intent.
DH News Service

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