The Centre Monday sought a report from the Chhattisgarh government on the vandalism at a prayer hall on the outskirts of Raipur that served as a church. “We have sought a report from Chhattisgarh government. Police have already taken necessary action and the guilty will not be spared,” Minister of State, Home Affairs, Kiren Rijiju said in Delhi.
A mob allegedly vandalised the prayer hall in Kachna village Sunday during a prayer meeting and manhandled those inside it. Local residents have said the men came on motorcycles and shouted slogans like “Jai Shri Ram”, while alleging religious conversions. Police, however, have claimed that a dispute over land encroachment escalated into the “trespass and manhandling”.
Nine people, including six minors, have been arrested in connection with the incident. A purported video of the attack has emerged, which reportedly shows young boys vandalising the prayer hall, raising slogans of “Jai Shri Ram” and arguing with those in the hall.
IG (Raipur range) G P Singh said, “Police responded immediately. This made the miscreants run away. The three bikes they left behind have been seized. Nine people, including six minors, have been arrested and more will soon be apprehended. We have spoken to organisations in the city, but none of them have taken responsibility for the incident.”
While leaders of the Christian community have blamed Bajrang Dal for the attack, police sources said those arrested may have “loose ties with Hindu organisations”, but no “active or serious membership”. “Names of Deepak Sahu and Prandesh Anand have cropped up as those who allegedly led the attack. We are close to arresting them and will probe if they have links to the incident,” a police officer said.
Arun Pannalal, president of Chhattisgarh Christian Forum, said that even if the recent “spate of incidents in the state was worrying”, they were pleased with the response of the state in this case. “Police acted quickly. The DSP even asked people to finish their prayers when he reached the spot. The FIR has been lodged and arrests have been made. The CM has taken personal interest into the case and we are thankful for that. Yet, these attacks have been part of a pattern with similar instances of the past few months in Jagdalpur and Korba. There, investigations have merely been an eye-wash,” he said.
Several women, who were at the prayer hall when it was attacked, claimed that at least 30 men were part of the group. “They didn’t even talk, just began attacking people and destroying things. We asked them what is wrong, but they didn’t listen. They were carrying sticks and some had knives. I had a child in my arms and they threw him down. They tore my clothes and misbehaved with me. We found Christianity because it gave us peace. Is that a crime?,” one woman asked.
Father Ankush, the pastor at the prayer hall, alleged that the group first attacked him. “When people tried to protect me, they were attacked. We started this prayer hall a year ago. If they allege it is encroached, every house nearby is encroached. We pay property tax of Rs 1,600 a year and water bills. Why are they targeting just the prayer hall?”