School Burning Prompts Call for India President to Protect Christians

India's president is being pressed to protect Christians in the country's northern Kashmir region after a mob burned down the oldest school there and also attacked other Christian institutions nearby.

"I am pained to state that though the local authorities were informed about a possible attack … no protection was provided," stated the Rt. Rev. Pradeep Kumar Samantaroy in a message to President Pratibha Patil.

"You are aware that the Christians in the State of Jammu and Kashmir are a tiny minority who always live and serve under stressful and sometimes threatening situations," the Church of North India bishop added Wednesday. "The present situation has made the Christians in Jammu and Kashmir feel very insecure."

On Monday, hundreds of Muslims in the divided region of Kashmir took to the streets in violent protest over the reported desecration of Qurans in the United States.

Around two dozen people reportedly died in the clash that ensued between police and protesters, and the Tangmarg Tyndale Biscoe branch school was burned to ashes.

The school, which is managed by Samantaroy's diocese, the Diocese of Amristar, had been providing education to 550 children from 150 villages around the town of Tangmarg. It had been founded in 1996 by the Tyndale-Biscoe & Mallinson School Educational Society to cater for those in the economically deprived sectors of the community.

After Monday night, however, the three-story wooden building was completely destroyed by the fire that was set by an angry mob, which was responding to reports of a man in the United States who desecrated the Quran over the weekend.

In a statement Thursday, the activist who helped organize the Quran desecration said his group was "truly sad" to hear of the deaths that followed Saturday's anti-Quran demonstration in front of the White House.

But he said to blame them for the violence "is ludicrous."

"Such logic is like saying that a woman who is abused by her boyfriend or husband is guilty of bringing violence on herself because she said or did something that irritated him," stated Randall Terry, who founded the anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue.

In addition to the Tungmarg Tyndale Biscoe branch school in Kashmir, other Christian institutions also came under attack, including the Roman Catholic Good Shepherd High School at Pulwama that was also set on fire and the Church of North India hospital at Anantnag that was stormed by protestors, two of whom were shot and killed by security forces.

"Today the school, the pride of the children who studied here and the staff who have put everything into the school, is a heap of ashes. I cannot express my own shock and sense of loss," reported Rahinder Kaul, headmaster of Tungmarg Tyndale Biscoe, according to the Anglican Communion News Service.

"[M]any, many students broke down completely while talking to me," he added. "Theirs is by far the biggest loss."

Aside from the loss of property, Samantaroy said the burning of the school building caused "irreparable damage to the sentiments of the Christian Community."

According to estimates, the Christian population in Kashmir is about 25,000 - 15,000 of which are Catholic. In total, the population of Kashmir stands at about 10 million.

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