Hundreds of Christians have reportedly been arrested in New Delhi, India, for protesting against a series of vandalism attacks against churches.
The police crackdown occurred on Thursday, when hundreds of demonstrators gathered around the Sacred Heart Cathedral, near the Indian parliament. Police barricaded the roads leading to the residence of Home Minister Rajnath Singh, and began arresting people for unlawful assembly.
"They had no permission to protest there," said Mukesh Kumar Meena, a senior police officer. The Wall Street Journal noted that as many as 350 people were initially detained.
Protesters have said that they were not planning on using any violence, however. Indian human-rights activist John Dayal said that he was one of 200 people who were arrested by police when they started the march on Singh's residence.
"Our protest demanded that the government inquire into the violence against Christians because we do not trust the police to investigate it properly," Dayal explained.
"Police told us we were disturbing the peace and threatening the police, but we are always peaceful, that is the point," he said.
Singh has said that an investigation will be launched to look into the attacks on Christian churches, but rejected accusations that the Indian government discriminates against religious minorities.
Despite promises from the government that religious freedom will be protected in India, Christians across the country have been targeted in a number of incidents in the past year.
The only Christian church in the village of Tadur in Telengana state was burned down by Hindu radicals earlier in January. Several churches have also been targeted in the Indian capital, with Archbishop Anil JT Couto noting:
"A clear pattern of orchestrated attacks is emerging as more and more churches are targetted, vandalised and set on fire," Couto said. "This is very disturbing and we request the authorities to take adequate measures to bring to book the miscreants who are threatening to weaken the social fabric of this great nation."
The International Christian Concern said that St. Sebastian's Church in East Delhi, for example, was intentionally burned down, pointing to evidence the police discovered of traces of kerosene.
"This string of church attacks in New Delhi is just a sampling of what Christians across India are facing. In India's rural areas, church burnings, beatings, social boycotts, and forced conversion attempts have become common place. India's national government has remained bizarrely silent on the issue of religious intolerance, despite the fact that it is affecting millions of its own citizens," said ICC's Regional Manager, William Stark.
"Prime Minister Modi has been called on multiple times to publicly speak on this issue, yet he has remained silent. This silence has let down India's religious minorities and only further emboldened India's Hindu radicals. ICC applauds the actions of New Delhi's Christians today as they attempt to encourage their government to protect the rights of all citizens, even if they are a religious minority."
Fides News Agency reported that the Home Minister rejected the charges of "complicity and indifference of the police," stressing that "the government does not discriminate on the basis of religion, caste or community."
Singh also met with a delegation of Christian leaders after the protests on Thursday, who told him that they had "lost confidence in the police," given that "the crimes of hatred and desecration of sacred places have so far gone unpunished."
The Christian leaders pointed out that the latest attack that shook the community in New Delhi was the desecration of the Eucharist at the church of St. Alphonsus. Although nothing was stolen, the yet unidentified vandals wanted to make "a gesture to hurt the feelings of the community," the Christians said.