Police in Punjab, India, have appointed a three-man special investigation team (SIT) to look into an attack on a church in the Tarn Taran district.
The SIT, which will consist of three senior police officers, was set up following the order of Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann that the incident be closely and carefully investigated.
Four masked men broke into the church building in the village of Thakarpura on 30 August, taking a security guard hostage at gunpoint and tying his hands.
The intruders also vandalised church property and set the pastor’s car on fire. The incident is just one of several anti-Christian attacks reported in Punjab on 30-31 August.
Chief Minister Mann said that the incident was “unpardonable”, adding that the “severest action must be taken against the perpetrators of this heinous crime”.
The Most Reverend PK Samantaroy, a senior church leader in Amritsar, Punjab, said that anti-Christian sentiment had been stoked by an earlier “reckless and completely unsubstantiated statement” by Giani Harpreet Singh, the acting head priest (Jathedhar) of Akal Takht, the Sikh temple in Amritsar.
Giani has claimed that Christians, funded “by foreign forces”, were seeking to gain converts from the Sikh and Hindu communities “by alluring them fraudulently”. He has also called for Punjab – which is around 58% Sikh, 38% Hindu and less than 1.5% Christian – to adopt an anti-conversion law.
At present there are 11 states in India with anti-conversion laws that criminalise seeking converts through force, fraud or allurement.
However, Sikhs in Thakarpura do not regard Christians with hostility. “We respect Christians and they respect us too,” said one elderly Sikh villager. “We do not have any problem with them. My own grandchildren study in the Christian school.”
Another Sikh man explained, “Whoever adopts Christianity does so out of his own choice. No one forces anyone to change their religion.”
Reverend Samantaroy added, “We continue to pray for speedy investigation by the government into the matter, and for peace and harmony between all faith communities.”
From Barnabas Aid contacts and other sources
Give thanks for the swift response of the Punjabi authorities and for the concern shown by the state government for religious freedom. Pray that the attitude of tolerance demonstrated by the Sikh community of Thakarpura will prevail, and that Christians will continue being able to live and worship in peace.