A group of people in Punjab's Tarn Taran district allegedly forcefully entered a local church last night and vandalised a statue of Jesus and Mary. They also set fire to the pastor's car. Visuals from the spot show the car engulfed in flames and a broken statue inside the church.
The police have said four masked youths entered the church, pointed a pistol at the watchman's head, and tied up his hands before vandalising the church and setting the vehicle on fire.
CCTV footage from the church shows a person in a red covering around the head and face repeatedly hitting the idol with an axe, decapitating it, and placing the head on the ground. They also appear to hide behind the statue at one point, presumably trying to avoid detection. The timestamp on the footage reads 12:45 am.
Cops said they have "vital clues" and that four people were behind the act. A First Information Report, or FIR, has been lodged.
"A few notorious elements tried to vandalise the idol of Jesus and set ablaze a car at Church in Patti. We're investigating the matter and have vital clues. There were 4 people, we are behind the culprits. We hope to solve it soon. An FIR has been lodged," RS Dhillon, Senior Superintendent of Police," said., adding that the accused avoided main roads due to the police checkposts which is why it's taking time to track them.
Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann has called the incident "unfortunate", assuring that nobody will be allowed to disturb communal harmony in the state.
"No one will be allowed to break the brotherhood of Punjab..Tarn Taran incident is very unfortunate..We will investigate it and strict action will be taken against the culprits..," he tweeted in Punjabi.
ਪੰਜਾਬ ਦੀ ਭਾਈਚਾਰਕ ਸਾਂਝ ਤੋੜਣ ਦੀ ਕਿਸੇ ਨੂੰ ਇਜਾਜ਼ਤ ਨਹੀਂ ਦਿੱਤੀ ਜਾਵੇਗੀ..ਤਰਨਤਾਰਨ ਵਾਲੀ ਘਟਨਾ ਬੇਹੱਦ ਮੰਦਭਾਗੀ ਹੈ..ਇਸਦੀ ਜਾਂਚ ਅਤੇ ਦੋਸ਼ੀਆਂ ਖ਼ਿਲਾਫ਼ ਸਖ਼ਤ ਕਾਰਵਾਈ ਦੇ ਨਿਰਦੇਸ਼ ..— Bhagwant Mann (@BhagwantMann) August 31, 2022
Punjab Congress chief Amarinder Singh Raja Warring also condemned the incident.
He said such incidents are deliberate attempts by some mischievous elements to break the country and divide people.
A group of Christians on Wednesday held a protest against the incident and blocked all routes leading to Khemkaran, Bhikhiwind, Patti, Harike, and Ferozepur.
The protesters demanded immediate arrest of the accused.
The incident comes on a day when the Akal Takht Jathedar, head of the highest temporal seat of the Sikhs, issued a statement against "forced conversions" by Christian missionaries.
"So-called Christian missionaries have been forcibly converting Sikhs through fraudulent practices. Sikhs and Hindus of Punjab are being misled and converted. This is happening right under the government's nose. Though there are provisions in the law to book for superstitious practices in the name of religion, no government is ready to act against them (missionaries) due to vote bank politics," Giani Harpreet Singh had said in a Facebook live video statement yesterday.
The attack is being seen as a repercussion of this statement; Sikh leaders have been vocal against alleged conversion attempts by Christian missionaries in the state.
Punjab is a border state, and we came to know that foreign funding is coming here to run these religious campaigns, Giani Harpreet Singh said, appealing to the Centre to "control it immediately".
The incident is from the Thakarpur village of Patti assembly constituency of Tarn Taran district.
Nihang Sikhs, an order of Sikh warriors, have also protested against the issue recently.
The Akal Takht, backing the Nihangs, said "fake pastors" are misleading the Sikhs and converting them. "A case should be registered against these fake pastors under the Black Magic Act," the Sikh body said.
They also demanded the withdrawal of an FIR against some Nihang Sikhs who were booked for allegedly disrupting an event organised by Christian missionaries at the Daduana village in Amritsar on Monday.