Delhi police arrest Christians protesting church attacks

Demonstrators shout slogans as they hold placards during a protest outside a church in New Delhi February 5, 2015.Reuters

Dozens of people have been arrested after clashing with police while protesting against a spate of church attacks in India's capital, Delhi.

Hundreds of Christians gathered in the Indian capital on Thursday to demand greater protection amid concern about religious intolerance.

Church attacks have been on the rise in India for the past two months. Five have been targeted in Delhi since December, with incidents including arson, vandalism and burglary.

St Sebastian's Church in East Delhi was burnt to the ground on December 1. Traces of kerosene were found inside the premises and police later confirmed it was a case of intentional arson.

In the wake of that attack, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Mumbai, said he was "completely shocked and deeply saddened".

"The arson attack on Saint Sebastian church in Delhi must be condemned in the strongest possible terms," he told AsiaNews. "This act of deliberate torching of a sacred place of worship is completely unacceptable and cannot be condoned. People are revolted and feel vulnerable whenever the miniscule Christian community is targeted."

Cardinal Gracias urged the police and local authorities to "prevent the recurrence of such traumatic incidents" and those protesting yesterday repeated this call.

Holding placards reading "Enough is Enough, What are police doing?" and "I am proud to be an Indian Christian", demonstrators attempted to march from one of Delhi's largest cathedrals to the residence of home minister, Rajnath Singh, but were stopped by police.

"All that we are asking is 'What are the police doing? What is the government doing?'," one protester told Reuters. Many people believe extremist Hindu groups to have carried out the attacks, but police insist there is no evidence and say they have stepped up security efforts.

India is currently 21 on the World Watch List, which ranks the most difficult countries to be a Christian. There were more than 600 attacks on Christian and Muslim groups in the first 100 days of the new government's rule, despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi promising greater protections for minority groups.

Modi's rise to power has led right-wing activists to declare India a nation of Hindus, though a fifth of the population identify with other faiths.

Last month, President Obama highlighted the tensions surrounding freedom of religion during a trip to India.

"Your Article 25 [of the constitution] says that all people are 'equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion'," Obama told a town hall address in New Delhi.

"In both our countries, in all countries, upholding this fundamental freedom is the responsibility of government, but it's also the responsibility of every person."