A Catholic church in the Tarn Taran district of Punjab, India, was attacked by four masked men in the early hours of 31 August. The attackers reportedly vandalised statues and set the priest’s car on fire.
CCTV footage shows the men tying the hands of the security guard and putting a gun to his head before entering the Catholic Church of the Child Jesus at around 12.45am. The men are reported to have shouted “We are Khalistani” while breaking into the church – a reference to the Khalistan Sikh separatist movement seeking to create an independent Sikh state in Punjab.
The parish priest Fr Thomas Poochalil immediately called the police, who are said to have responded swiftly. A First Information Report (FIR), which is required for the police to open an investigation, has been filed under Sections 295A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings) and 452 (house trespass) of the Indian Penal Code. The police say that they have vital information as to who the culprits could be and hope to solve the case soon. Punjab’s Chief Minister Bhagvant Mann has condemned the incident and called for strict action against the perpetrators.
Earlier that week, on 29 August, a group of Nihangs, an armed Sikh warrior order, disrupted an event conducted by Christian missionaries in Amritsar, Punjab. The Nihangs have repeatedly accused Christians of carrying out conversions and have demanded that the local administration prevents the Christian community from conducting prayer meetings.
CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: “CSW condemns the attack on the Catholic Church of the Child Jesus and we call on the police to act swiftly to hold the perpetrators to account. The rise in incidents of communal violence against Christians in Punjab is deeply worrying. We therefore urge the government of Punjab to take measures to prevent these fringe elements and maintain the communal harmony that has been prevalent in the state for so long.”