86-yr-old Church Burnt Down in Ratlam town of MP

By Pervez Bari, TwoCircles.net,

Bhopal: An 86-year-old St Bartholomew Church was completely burnt down in the wee hours of Sunday in the Railway Colony of Ratlam town of Bharatiya Janata party ruled Madhya Pradesh allegedly by saffron forces. The local Christian community is reported to be shell-shocked at the incident.

Support TwoCircles

The district collector has ordered a magisterial enquiry into the matter. This is the sixth district after the Orissa communal riot that has claimed 25 lives and property loss.

A meeting of Christian community held in Ratlam has decided to hold a rally on Monday from burnt Church to the Collectorate in Ratlam to protest and express their ire over the torching of the church.

According to a Press release issued by Fr. Anand Muttungal, PRO & Spokesperson Catholic Council of Bishops, members of the Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad, (VHP), workers allegedly torched the church which was beautifully decorated to celebrate the 86th Anniversary today. The vandals barged into the church between 2 am and 4 am and set it to fire, thereby destroying documents, religious books and furniture kept inside it.

The loss of the church following the fire is estimated to be about Rs. 8 lakhs. The Church was completely built on wood, so fire caused total damage to the Church. This Church is the only English Church in Ratlam district where most of the members are senior citizens and retired railway employees.

According to Pastor Jose Mathew on August 15 last the VHP and Bajrang Dal members at the complaint of one Batti, a neighbour, attacked a youth meeting held in the church. They beat up many participants including Pastor Satya, his wife and Murthy, the district manager of World Vision, an NGO. However, it is said the police later without any enquiry charged them with attempt to conversion.

The investigating officer and Additional Superintendent of Police, Ratlam, Manish Agarwal said, “Police has filed an FIR under Section 295 and 436 of the IPC. We are investigating the case and we do not know whether the VHP or Bajrang Dal is involved in the case.”

Ratlam Collector Mahendra Gyani has reportedly admitted that the fire was not accidental. “It appears the church was torched, as locks of boxes inside the church were broken and documents were scattered. We have ordered a magisterial inquiry into the incident.”

The district president of the Madhya Pradesh Isai Mahasangh Lalu Stephan has said that the entire episode was planned and it is done by the VHP and Bajrang Dal so there is no doubt of their involvement in the entire episode.

However, the VHP and Bajrang Dal have denied the whole allegation saying that the Church is burnt due short circuit. But the local Christian residents say that at least five hours is needed to burn down the entire structure so it is not true about the short circuit story.

The political affairs committee of the Madhya Pradesh Isai Mahasangh met in Bhopal under the leadership of Richard D”Silva and K J Kurian to take various steps to draw strategy to review the situation in the state. The Catholic Bishops Council and Madhya Pradesh Isai Mahasangh have expressed great grief and concern over the burning of the Church in Ratlam. ([email protected])