In a shocking incident that took place two days ahead of Christmas, at least 12 worshippers were injured, when a group of vandals attacked them during a Sunday mass with beer bottles, hockey sticks and choppers at a Church at Kowad in Chandwad taluka of Kolhapur district in western Maharashtra.
Reports reaching the State headquarters said on Tuesday some “15 to 20” unidentified attackers, who arrived at the New Life Fellowship Church at Chandwad in motorbikes when the mass was on there on Sunday, first hurled stones and beer bottles at the church for 20 to 30 minutes and later barged inside the place of worship.
There were in all 40 worshippers inside the church when the incident took place at around 11.30 – nearly half an hour after the start of Sunday service.
The attackers, who had covered their faces to avoid being identified, smashed the heads of the worshippers with empty beer bottles and also hit them with hockey sticks, injuring at least a dozen of them. Most of the injured were mostly those who had formed a protection ring around a majority of worshippers soon after the vandals barged inside the church.
The Kolhapur police said that the injured were admitted to a private hospital at Belagavi in the neighbouring Karnataka, where eight were treated and discharged and the condition of the remaining four was reported to be “serious”. The seriously injured are undergoing treatment in Intensive Care Unit (ICU).
Till Tuesday evening, the Kolhapur police had not made any arrests in connection with the attack on the church and worshippers. The investigations have revealed that the attackers might have fled to neighbouring Belagavi city in Karnataka. "Our investigations have revealed that after the church incident, the same group of goons attacked people in Talguli and Dindalkop villages on their way to Belagavi," a senior police officer said on Tuesday.
The police have launched a manhunt for the vandals by forming four teams. “We have not arrested any one so far,” the police officer said.
Meanwhile, the police have registered offences against the unknown persons under sections 143 (punishment for unlawful assembly), 146, 147 (rioting) 148 (Rioting, armed with deadly weapons, 295 (injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class), 323 ( punishment for voluntarily causing hurt), 427 (Mischief) and 452 (House trespass after preparation for hurt, assault or wrongful confinement).
Though the motive behind the attack has not been established, the investigators suspect that right-wing activists might have been the attack. “All the same, we are not ruling out anything, including the involvement of right-wing activists. We are looking at all angles,” a senior police officer investigating the case said.
In a related development, President of Indian Christian Voice and former Vice Chairman-Minorities Commission Dr Abraham Mathai described the incident as “very unfortunate” that the church and worshippers were attacked in a village in Kolhapur district.
Talking to “The Pioneer”, Mathai said: “ I had warned the Supreme Court about the possibility of attacks on churches in the run-up to and during Christmas festivities. In fact, I had written a letter to the Chief Justice of India nearly a fortnight back, seeking withdrawal of the privilege of burning crackers till 12.30 am and rather ensure protection and safety of Churches for Christmas. I had told him clearly that Christian Community needs protection and safety more than permissions to burn crackers on Christmas Eve”
“While we respect the ruling of the Supreme Court, the ruling will encourage the use of firecrackers which has not been part of the Christmas Celebration in the past and will set a precedent which is adverse to the environment. Anarchic elements can also take advantage of the situation to discredit the peace loving community,” Mathai said.
“Adequate security and elaborate protection measures need to be put in place to protect Christian community during this festive season and to deter communal goons from attacking them and ultimately disrupting their prayer meetings,” Mathai said.