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Dehradun: Over 200 unidentified men and women, allegedly belonging to local right-wing groups, vandalised a church in Roorkee on Sunday, October 3, injuring several people who had assembled for morning prayers.
According to the FIR registered by Prio Sadhana Lanse, the church pastor’s wife, over 200 men and women belonging to the local Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal and Bharatiya Janata Party’s youth wing, barged into the church and started vandalising it, while beating the churchgoers.
At around 10 am, the mob, armed with iron roads, destroyed chairs, tables, musical instruments and photographs that were in the church.
Speaking to The Wire over the phone, Lanse said that the attackers went on a rampage and smashed everything that came in their way.
“The frenzied mob, shouting slogans like ‘Vande mataram’ and ‘Bharat mata ki jai’, barged into the church, which is on the first floor of the building,” Lanse said. “They started beating our volunteers and the women attackers bashed up our womenfolk.”
The vandalism went on for over 40 minutes and Rajat, a church volunteer, suffered serious head injuries. He has been shifted to a Dehradun government hospital where his condition is stated to be critical.
Lanse also alleged that the women present, including her daughter Pearl, were inappropriately touched by the attackers. Another church follower, Akshi Chauhan, confirmed this. “I saw that an aged man had forcibly hugged Pearl and she was struggling to free herself. When I went to rescue her (Pearl), an attacker asked me what I, being a Hindu, was doing in the church,” Chauhan told The Wire.
The miscreants then allegedly dragged Chauhan away by her hair and beat her.
Sumit Kumar, an eyewitness, told The Wire that the attackers damaged the CCTV cameras fitted in the church premises before beginning their attack.
“The women miscreants attacked the womenfolk of the church and the men broke everything: table, chairs, inverters and photos kept in the church,” said Kumar.
The FIR – a copy of which The Wire has accessed – has been filed under IPC Sections 295, 296, 395, 323, 504, 506 and 427, which deal with defiling a place of worship, disturbing a religious assembly, dacoity, voluntarily causing hurt, insults which disturb the public peace, criminal intimidation and mischief causing damages greater than Rs 50.
Four women – Rajni Goel, Rakhi Pradhan, Banita Chauhan, Seema Goel – and two men – Dhir Singh and Shiv Prasad Tyagi – have been named in the FIR. It is learnt that these individuals are residents of Roorkee and Lanse had identified them when they were vandalising the church.
No arrests have been made and the police are trying to access the CCTV footage from nearby places to trace the culprits. SP rural, Haridwar Parminder Dobhal, was unreachable and the Roorkee police station was tight-lipped about the incident. A senior police officer said that the culprits have been named in the FIR and police teams are tracking them. “Adequate security personnel have been deployed at the church premises and also at the residence of the complainant in Roorkee,” said the officer.
The church has been functional for over 35 years and after the death of pastor D.R. Lanse due to COVID-19 last year, his wife Sadhana organises the prayer meetings.
“Following COVID-19 protocol, we allow only 12 people to attend the Sunday prayers and the rest of community members are connected through video call. The attackers first damaged the mobile phone that was being used for the online prayers,” said Kumar. The attackers outnumbered the number of those in the prayer hall. One attacker, Kumar said, picked up the church guitar and started stringing the chord, menacingly showing it to the womenfolk in the prayer hall, and then smashed it on the floor. “The hooligans had a clear plan of first damaging the CCTV cameras and then snatching all our mobile phones before going on a rampage in the church. The attack on the church was well planned,” said Kumar.