Hindu ceremony on church grounds in Goa marks trend to “deny sacred places to Christians”

19 January 2021

A significant Hindu religious ceremony (pooja) to a Hindu deity was held on the grounds of a Christian church in Sancoale, Goa, India but police have not yet filed a report on the church minister’s complaint under Indian laws that ban deliberate and harmful acts intended to “hurt the religious feelings” of a group.

About 25 people performed the Hindu pooja on 30 December directly in front of the Church of Sancoale’s historic façade, which is also a protected regional monument. “This is a heritage site and a religious place. I was present with my parishioners,” the minister explained. “We called the police, who asked them [the Hindus] to move to another place for the pooja.”

The historic ruins of the old Sancoale Church facade in Goa, which stands in front of a more recent church building used for worship today

At the time of the incident almost 2,000 Christians were worshipping in the church (which is observing regional social distancing requirements).

At the time of writing an FIR (First Information Report) had not yet been made by the police, which is the necessary first step to police responding to a complaint. The South Goa Police Superintendent said this was due to ongoing investigations.

The minister’s complaint drew particular attention to the apparent contravention of Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code which forbids “promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony”.

The incident also seemed to contravene Section 295A, which protects all citizens against “deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage reli­gious feelings of any class [of citizens of India] by insulting its religion or reli­gious beliefs”, a crime punishable by a fine, a prison term up to four years, or both.

An Indian Christian leader in contact with Barnabas described the incident as “very insidious”. “There have been several incidents like this in the past. I am sure the incident did take place to provoke the Christians,” he said.

The leader explained that, while there is pressure to stop prayer meetings as well as disruption of Sunday services in many northern and southern Indian states, “Interestingly, in other states of the north, east and west there is very little violence against people but hostility is directed at facilities. There are also attempts to conduct Hindu worship near or even in these Christian worship places.”

Noting previous reports of a similar incident of Hindu devotions taking place at the Taj Mahal, a Muslim tomb and place of prayer, he added, “It is primarily an attempt to reduce and even deny sacred places to Christians and Muslims.”

From Barnabas Fund contacts and other sources

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India