Attack was well-planned, say cops

SAONER: An armed of group of Hindu radicals attacked a over 100-year-old church in Saoner on Sunday. Saoner police said that just about 10 minutes before the attack, some persons claiming to be from VHP’s Ramtek unit came to the police station and handed over an application asking for action against religious conversions taking place in Saoner.
They warned of a vigorous movement against the church’s action of allegedly targeting economically weaker section and converting them into Christianity offering them enticements. The allegations, said priest Reverend Mark Sakharpekar of the church, were baseless. He said this was the first attack of its kind on the church.
CH Wakade, superintendent of police, Nagpur rural, said that these men then headed straight to the church. “The police station personnel had accepted the complaint and assured them that they would look into the issue of conversion through unfair means. Ten minutes later, the police station received information about attack at the church. It seems that the moves were planned,” he said. SP said that special squads have been formed to round up the culprits at the earliest.
Sakharpekar had just begun his sermon when the attack began. It triggered panic among the devotees. The church is hardly a kilometre from the police station. The priest’s wife Pushpa Sakharpekar, who is in a shock after the attack, tried to reason with the assailants but to no avail. The other women too protested. A sharp trident like weapon was hurled at the priest. However, he escaped unhurt. One of the attackers told him that `next time will be worse’. Two worshippers, Aruna Telkhande and Preeti Dongre, received minor injuries.
The late 19th century church comes under the Church of Scotland Missions and is affiliated to United Church of Northern India.
“It was a merciless attack. I was shocked to see them barge into the church with sticks and weapons during the worship. They hurled a sharp trident at me. Some of them were known faces. One Pandit Bharadwaj even brandished a pistol to intimidate me,” said Sakharpekar. “Sonu Bariya was one of the attackers. We know him since his mother often came for the morning mass. He too visited the church on several occasions. Both Sonu and his mother had recently discontinued their visits to the church,” he said.
An unidentified man had barged into the Saoner church in the night and tried to vandalise the St. John’s Mission High School’s computer room some days back. Sakharpekar had not taken the matter to police station then. “We had no idea who had then tried to break open the computer room. He had claimed to be sent by someone but that name was unfamiliar,” he said. Sakharpekar had raised the boundary wall of the church and school premises.
An offence of rioting, trespassing and defiling place of worship and insulting religious feelings has been registered against the culprits. 20 Apr 2009, 0726 hrs IST, Soumittra S Bose, TNN


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