New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Muslim extremists set fire to a Church and to a Christian school in Punjab in reaction to the proposed Qur‘an burning by Rev Terry Jones, a US clergyman, in order to commemorate 9/1, an action he later abandoned but still caused protests among Muslims and anti-Christian violence. In India, the latter have taken a distinctly political and separatist tone. The resulting incidents with police left 11 people dead.
The Christian Society Mission School was set on fire this morning in Tangmarg, near Gulmarg. Rumours had already spread that it might be targeted but the authorities ignored them. When fire fighters tried to the wood-made church, they were stopped by a mob. The entire building burnt to the ground but students were not hurt.
However, this was not the only act of violence. Demonstrators also stormed a government building and clashed with police. Seven people were killed, including a police officer. Four more people died in earlier protests.
“The [church] fire was fuelled by both rumours of an alleged burning of the Qur‘an and the political situation” in the state, Mgr Peter Celestine, bishop of Jammu-Srinagar, told AsiaNews. “Witnesses said that hundreds of people were on streets yesterday night.” From there, they “barged into the school building and set it ablaze. Curfew has been imposed.”
Anti-government Islamic protests are commonplace in the state. At least 70 demonstrators have been killed by police in the past three months. The ‘Burn-the-Qur‘an’ issue was just a pretext to vent anti-government feelings.
“The proposal to burn the Qur‘an’, even though it was abandoned, created a very tense situation. Fear and anxiety are widespread. Christians constitute only 0.0014 per cent of the population. So far, we have had cordial relations with our Muslim brothers and the authorities, but this initiative is cause for concern,” the bishop said.
In Punjab last night, an angry crowd burnt a church and various cars parked in Loha Bazar in the city of Malerkotla, Sangrur District, a predominantly Muslim area, because of Rev Jones’ proposal. The authorities have imposed a curfew until 6 pm fearing more violence.
The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) condemned the church burning. For its president Sajan K. George, “World’s leaders and media” must “show the same kind of outspoken condemnation when radical actions, on an equal or larger scale [than the abandoned plan to burn the Qur‘an], are committed against peace-loving Christians. We plead with the Federal Home minister of India and the [state and federal] governments to show their magnanimity” and condemn “the mindless violence against Christians in Punjab.”
“The GCIC feels bad about hearing that in Malerkotla the decade-old harmony was broken. I just wish this were an isolated case and the fire did not spread elsewhere,” George added.
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