Five days after the attack on nuns and priests from the Missionaries of Charity, unidentified vandals broke into the St. Thomas Mar Thoma Church in the Indian state of Kerala Wednesday night, setting fire to the velvet curtain and a couple of chairs in the altar. Police suspect that the incident was an attempt to create stir trouble and escalate communal tension.
Wednesday’s attack is the third instance of attack on the church and the missionaries after the defeat of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA)—which is led by the predominantly Buddhist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—in the Lok Sabha elections.
Sources say Kerala was relatively calm before Christian missionaries came under attack in several parts of the country after the NDA came to power in New Delhi in 1999. During the last five years there were only a couple of incidents of attacks on missionaries.
However, this trend took a sudden change last month, when a local Catholic priest was murdered in the city of Trichur. Barely a month after this, an unidentified number of assailants attacked 9 nuns and priests belonging to Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity at Olavanna near Calicut. In both cases the accused were reportedly concerned about the threat the victims posed to the Hindus through their missionary activities.
One BJP-turned Communist Party of India (CPI) activist, who was arrested in connection with the murder of Fr Job Chittilappilly,Vicar of Varaprasadamatha church in the town of Thuruthiparambu on August 28, told the police that he thought that the priest was hindering the development of the nearby Bhagavathy temple.
Meanwhile, the accused in the Olavanna case said that they believed that the workers of Missionaries of Charity were trying to convert poor Hindus by providing them assistance.
Currently, the motive behind the attack on the church at Trivandrum is not known. Some local Christians believe the attack on the church was aimed at provoking the minority community.
Others believe that the attacks were orchestrated by the BJP to create communal divide in the State following their failure to make an electoral breakthrough in Kerala. They believe that the BJP and its affiliates were trying to provoke the Christians into retaliation.
Local sources say such retaliation could be dangerous in a state like Kerala, where the Christians account for about quarter of the population. “The priest's murder had portended communal disquiet with the church leading agitations against the attack,” a local news agency reported.
The agency also reported that the BJP and the RSS have denied any involvement in the two incidents. BJP State president P S Sreedharan Pillai believes that the attacks were stage-managed by the CPI to drive the minorities away from his party.
So far authorities have not been able to take into custody anybody in connection with the case. Sources say church authorities are agitated over the police failure.