Four unidentified men allegedly broke into a church and desecrated statues of Jesus Christ and Mary in Punjab’s Tarn Taran district, police said on Wednesday
Adding that chief minister Bhagwant Mann has ordered a probe into the “highly condemnable” incident.
The incident comes two days after a group of nihangs and their supporters disrupted an event organised by Christian missionaries at Daduana village in the border district of Amritsar.
According to the Tarn Taran police, four armed men barged into the Catholic Church at Thakkarpura village near Patti town late on Tuesday night. The intruders pointed a pistol at the security guard’s head and tied his hands in the incident that took place around 12.30 am and was caught on CCTV cameras installed at the church.
They desecrated the statues of Jesus Christ and Mary, located at the front side of the church, with an axe and escaped with the heads, according to a senior police officer from Sadar police station, Patti, where a case has been registered based on the complaint from the church authority.
“The CCTV footage showed two of the masked men vandalising the idols,” the officer said, requesting anonymity. “They also set ablaze a car parked on the church premises while fleeing.”
Father Thomas P, the priest of the church, told the police that the vandalisers remained inside the church campus for around 25 minutes.
Soon after the incident, a police team led by Tarn Taran’s senior superintendent of police (SSP) Ranjit Singh Dhillon reached the spot. A large number of police personnel were deployed in the area.
“It is a conspiracy by some mischievous elements who wanted to disturb the peace in the state,” the SSP told reporters. “We have taken stock of the situation and are investigating the matter. We will soon catch those behind this incident.”
A case has been registered under sections 295A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings), 452 (house trespass), 427 (mischief causing damage) and 34 (Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and relevant sections of the Arms Act, said Sukhbir Singh, station house officer (Patti police station).
Condemning the incident, chief minister Mann said he has directed the state’s director general of police (DGP) to probe the “unpardonable incident”.
“This is a highly condemnable incident and severest action must be taken against the perpetrators of this heinous crime,” he said in a statement. “This incident is a handiwork of the forces inimical to the peace, prosperity and progress of the state. This unfortunate tragedy is aimed at vitiating the peaceful atmosphere of the state and derailing communal harmony and brotherhood in Punjab.”
The incident sparked off tension in the area with a group of people from the Christian community holding a protest on Wednesday, blocking a road near the church that adjoins a Christian school as well demanding the immediate arrest of the perpetrators. Bishop Agnelo Rufino Gracias, apostolic administrator of Jalandhar diocese, also visited the church and led the protest.
SSP Dhillon and IG (Ferozepur range) PK Yadav assured the Christian community members that the culprits will be arrested soon after which the protest was called off around 3 pm.
The incident comes a day after Akal Takht acting jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh announced support for nihang leader Baba Major Singh and nearly 150 of his supporters, who were booked for outraging religious sentiments, among other charges, at Jandiala Guru police station on Monday on the complaint of local Christian pastor named Raja.
The acting jathedar said the Punjab government should cancel the case against the nihangs immediately as the Sikh community stood with them. He added that families of Sikhs and Hindus from Scheduled Castes and backward classes are being targeted in the border belt.
Nihangs are Sikhs who strictly follow the Khalsa code of conduct.
Giani Harpreet Singh said the law does not permit forcible religious conversion but a large-scale campaign was being run in the border area of Punjab. He urged the Centre to intervene and stop this practice.
On Sunday, the nihangs disrupted the Christian event alleging that the Christian missionaries are converting Sikhs into Christianity with fraudulent means and superstitious beliefs.