New Delhi : It’s East Delhi again. There is a minority place of worship in question. And again there are allegations of mischief.
A fire broke out in a church in Northeast Delhi’s Dilshad Garden on Monday morning. Police have registered a case under IPC Section 436 (arson) following allegations by parish members that the fire was not accidental.
“A case has been registered. A forensic team went to St Sebastian Catholic Church in Dilshad Garden and collected two samples. The fire department is also preparing a report. Only after receiving these reports that we will able to ascertain the exact cause of the fire,” a police officer said.
Fire control room said they received a call around 7.26 am on Monday that a fire had broken out at the church. Four fire tenders were rushed to the spot and took around two hours to douse the flames. No casualties were reported as no one was present in the church except for the guard who spotted the fire and informed police.
Police said besides arson, they are looking at the possibility of a short circuit. The church was built in 2001.
Delhi Archbishop Anil Couto has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, calling on him to order a judicial enquiry into the fire. Couto said members of the Christian community will protest at the Delhi Police commissioner’s office on Tuesday morning to highlight “attempts to polarise the people in Delhi state” ahead of Assembly elections”.
He said the “arson” was an act of “sacrilege and hate” against the community and its faith and it was surprising that such an act could take place in Delhi, which is just recovering from a series of communal incidents”.
Father Mathew Koyickal, chancellor (Archdiocese of Delhi) alleged that “someone deliberately set fire to the church as there is a strong smell of kerosene in the air”. The first floor was gutted, and the holy books and the alter were reduced to ash.
He said residents who had gathered outside the church became restive when they saw no police officers present at the site.
A local resident, Thomas Antony, said: “The community feels it looks like a case of arson.
After Delhi Church Fire, Archbishop Appeals to PM Modi to Ensure Safety
Hundreds of Christians protested in Delhi on Tuesday and also appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for safety, suspecting mischief behind a fire that has destroyed much of a Catholic church.
“We have asked the prime minister to ensure that such incidents don’t take place. Similar incidents are happening in other parts of the country as well. Churches are being attacked,” Archbishop of Delhi, Anil Couto said, demanding a judicial inquiry into a blaze on Monday morning that left the St Sebastian’s Church in east Delhi mostly in ruins.
“The entire interior, including the Altar, the Holy Bible and Cross were reduced to ashes,” the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese said in a statement.
The police have registered a case but the church accuses them of reacting late to the fire call. “The police and the forensic team only reached at 5.30 pm, though the fire broke out in the morning,” said Father Stanley of the church.
After protests today, the police promised a Special Investigation Team to look into the fire.
The incident was also raised in Parliament by the Congress and the Trinamool Congress. Responding to calls for a probe, union minister M Venkaiah Naidu called the incident “very serious and condemnable” and said he would speak to Home Minister Rajnath Singh.
Arvind Kejriwal, the chief of the Aam Aadmi Party, visited the church on Monday and demanded “a serious, thorough, time-bound and impartial probe.”
The police have been accused of ignoring clear evidence of arson. A forensic team has reportedly found traces of kerosene on the church premises.
A watchman spotted the fire at around 6.30 am, when the church was empty. The police say the building was unguarded between 5 and 6 am and the fire may have started then.
Saint Sebastian’s Church was built in 2001 in an area that has a mixed population of Hindus and Christians. The police are cautious as 15 km away is the Trilokpuri area, where 60 people were injured in communal tension during Diwali in October.
Christians account for about 2.5 percent of the country’s 1.2 billion people.