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‘Christians have created a mess’ — What Punjab church attackers told security guard

Tarn Taran SSP Ranjit Singh Bhullar said it was the first time probably in the region that such vandalism had taken place. Candle marches to be held across Punjab on 3 September.

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Tarn Taran (Punjab): Four masked miscreants claimed themselves to be Khalistanis and accused the Christians of “creating a mess” in Punjab before they went on a vandalisation spree Tuesday night, the security guard of Infant Jesus Catholic Church told ThePrint.

The police, meanwhile, are yet to identify or arrest the perpetrators who carried out the attack at the church in Patti village at Tarn Taran district after they held the guard hostage. The miscreants desecrated the statues of Christ and Mary at the church premises and set ablaze the car of an administrative employee, the police said. 

The attack came three days after a group of Nihangs (an order of Sikh warriors) had reportedly disrupted a programme in Daduana village, about 40 km away, accusing Christian missionaries of carrying out forcible conversions.  

On Sunday, Akal Takht (the highest temporal seat of Sikhism) jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh had posted a video saying that “fake pastors” were misleading the Sikhs and that the Nihangs who protested them faced police action. 

Both the police and the local pastor have refused to link the recent events, saying they are waiting for “the investigation to get over”.

Tarn Taran’s Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Ranjit Singh Bhullar said this was the first time probably in the region’s history that such kind of vandalism against a religious site had taken place in Tarn Taran. He added that the police were working on all leads they had gathered. 

Meanwhile, the Christian leadership has decided to hold peaceful candle marches across Punjab on 3 September.  

Also Read: Minorities panel seeks report from Punjab govt on ‘conversions of Sikhs to Christianity’

What happened Tuesday night  

Security guard Jagtar Singh, who the miscreants held hostage at gunpoint, said he somehow survived the ordeal. 

 “I went to charge my phone in the adjoining room when I was attacked. They said they would kill me if I uttered a word. They tied my hands; one held a gun on my chest and the other had a sickle placed on my neck… When I asked what they wanted, they told me that they were here to damage the statue,” Jagtar told ThePrint

It was around 12.45 am when he was held hostage, the security guard claimed.

Jagtar said he requested the group not to carry out their plan, but instead received a terse reply — ‘You, the Christians, have created a mess in Punjab. We are Khalistanis’. “Two men did the entire act (of vandalisation and desecration) while the other two held me hostage,” the guard claimed. 

The miscreants were without turbans and had covered their heads and face with robes, he said. 

Jagtar said that one of the miscreants told him that had he not moved to charge his phone, he would have been shot as their entry to the church’s premises was getting delayed. 

One of the miscreants was contemplating to shoot him but instead the group took away his phone so that there was no hiccup in their exit, the security guard claimed.

The investigation

ThePrint reached the church at around 7 am Thursday where a group of policemen were keeping a close eye on people arriving at the spot.

Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann had ordered an investigation on Wednesday and asserted that nobody would be allowed to disturb brotherhood and harmony in Punjab.

The miscreants had dropped Jagtar’s phone near the Cambridge School, barely 200 meters away from the crime scene, prompting the police to scan the nearby rice fields to look for cues as well as the heads of two desecrated statues of Jesus and Mary, ThePrint has learnt.

After the police left the rice fields, The Print spoke to Jagmeet Singh, the owner of the plots, who claimed that both the Christians and the Sikhs live happily in the area. 

“The village has remained peaceful all these years. There is a very good assimilation of both the communities in the area. I don’t think that this is a hate-crime issue. Most likely some miscreants are trying to disturb the peace through such mischief,” Jagmeet told ThePrint.

Thomas Poochalil, the parish priest of the Patti church, told ThePrint that he had no idea about the Daduana event which the Nihangs had claimed was carrying out forcible conversions

“There are many local independent self-proclaimed priests who are not a part of the institutionalised Christian communities (like the Diocese of Jalandhar  and Amritsar),” he said. 

Later, the Christian leadership held a press conference at Alexandra School where one of the representatives asserted that conversion was a personal right and that nobody can force anyone to exercise it.

Church representatives brief the media on the attack carried out at Infant Jesus Catholic Church | Nikhil Rampal | ThePrint
Church representatives brief the media on the attack carried out at Infant Jesus Catholic Church | Nikhil Rampal | ThePrint

To a media query whether the vandalisation was linked to the Sunday event, the Christian leadership said it trusted police investigation but added that it was upset with the allegations of forced conversions.

Such ‘provocative statements’ can only make matters worse, they added. 

When asked about if there was any such previous instance in Tarn Taran, Agnelo Gracias, the auxiliary bishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Bombay, said it was brought to his notice that sometime ago, there was a robbery in the Patti church. 

A few months later, a miscreant apparently paid a ransom to beat a professor in the school run by the church, he said. “Some police action was taken against them, but I am not sure if this case is linked with it. All we can do is just wait for the police’s version. Let them do their job.”

“The incident has definitely impacted the community when it comes to fear, but we have a strong goodwill among the people of the state who have condemned it,” said P. K. Samantaroy, Bishop of Amritsar’s Anglican Communion. 

“We want our people to follow the path set by the Holy Bible. Hence, we will have our prayers and people will march across the state [on 3 September]. We request the government to provide security to them,” he added.  

(Edited by Tony Rai)

Also Read: ‘Falsehood, devoid of facts’ — Punjab Police chief rebuts claims of deteriorating law & order


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