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Christians Protest Punjab Church Attack

September 21 (Compass Direct News) – Christians in Amritsar , in India ’s Punjab state, will stage a rally on Friday (September 22) to protest last week’s attack on a 200-year-old church in their city.

Church authorities suspect that the family of Kartar Rai, a Hindu who formerly worked as caretaker of St. Paul ’s Church, carried out the September 13 attack.

The church had given Rai a house in the church compound. When he died a few years ago, his family refused to leave. They also drank alcohol and gambled on church property, offending church staff.

“It seems [the recent attack] was due to church authorities erecting a wall around the house on August 15 to prevent these family members from misusing the property,” district police superintendent Srivastava told Compass.

According to the Rt. Rev. P. K. Samantaroy, Bishop of the Amritsar diocese of the Church of North India , the family had also accused the church of forcing them to convert to Christianity.

Vandalism, Theft

When the Rev. Uday Singh arrived at St. Paul ’s Church on the morning of September 14, he first noticed broken windows. Vandals had destroyed the altar, organ, sound system, hymnbooks and Bibles.

The intruders also took a cross and other valuable antiques from the church, along with money from the offering box totaling 6,000 rupees (US$130).

Singh immediately informed the police, requesting prompt action.

As news of the attack spread, pastors and members of several other churches in the city gathered outside the building to show solidarity.

District officials, local legislators and representatives of almost all state parties visited the church on Sunday (September 17) and condemned the attack.

Police have since arrested Balwant Rai, Satpal, Joginder Pal and other members of Rai’s family, charging them with trespass, theft, damaging church property and insulting religious feelings.

But policeman Chaman Lal said the fingerprints of those arrested did not match prints procured from the church. “Now we’ll have to see if the accused organized someone else to carry out the attack,” he said.

The officer added that a special investigation team comprised of senior officials was handling the case.

Possible Anti-Conversion Law for Punjab

Meanwhile, the Press Trust of India reported on September 13 that Tikshan Sud, a legislator of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Punjab , plans to present a draft “Freedom of Religion Bill” or anti-conversion bill in the upcoming session of the state assembly.

Sud said the bill would require Christian ministers to get permission from district authorities before a conversion could take place.

The BJP in the states of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh recently passed bills to amend their respective anti-conversion laws.

But Christians in Punjab believe the assembly will not pass the bill, since the BJP is a minority party in the state government.

Of the 24.3 million people in Punjab , only 292,800 are Christian. The state’s leading city, Amritsar is the center of Sikhism.