INDIA: Bishop calls on president to protect Christians after 'most beautiful school' is lost to Quran anger violence

September 15, 2010

The bishop of Amritsar has called on India's President Pratibha Devisingh Patil to protect Christians in northern India after a mob burned down the oldest school in Kashmir and also attacked other Christian institutions on Sept. 13.

The Church of North India's Bishop Pradeep Kumar Samantaroy wrote in a letter to the president that it was "with a heavy heart" that he reported the complete destruction of the Tangmarg Tyndale Biscoe branch school that provided "quality education to 550 children from 150 villages around Tangmarg," according to the Anglican Communion News Service.

The school, managed by the Diocese of Amritsar, had 27 staff and 16 support staff and was founded in 1996 by Tyndale Biscoe and Mallinson School Educational Society to cater to economically deprived sectors of the community.

The three-story wooden structure with 26 classrooms, computer labs and a library containing, among other books, copies of the Qu'ran, was destroyed after being set on fire by a large mob that marched on the school, reportedly after hearing of a man desecrating the Quran in America. None of the staff were injured; they all managed to escape the blaze.

In fact, nondenominational Dove World Outreach Church Pastor Terry Jones canceled the "International Burn a Koran Day," which he had scheduled for Sept. 11 in Gainesville, Florida.

"I am pained to state that though the local authorities were informed about a possible attack ... no protection was provided," Samantaroy told the president. "As a result of it the whole building was burnt to ashes incurring a huge loss of property and causing irreparable damage to the sentiments of the Christian community.

"You are aware that the Christians in the State of Jammu and Kashmir are a tiny minority who always live and serve under stressful and sometimes threatening situations. The present situation has made the Christians in Jammu and Kashmir feel very insecure."

Rahinder Kaul, the school's headmaster, expressed his sorrow at the destruction of the school: "As word spread, my phone hasn't stopped ringing, with students, parents, staff members, friends and well-wishers all expressing their shock and disbelief -- many, many students broke down completely while talking to me -- theirs is by far the biggest loss.

He added, "Today the school, the pride of the children who studied here and the staff who have put everything into the school, is a heap of ashes. I cannot express my own shock and sense of loss."

Other Christian institutions also came under attack, including the Roman Catholic Good Shepherd High School at Pulwama, which was also set on fire, and the Church of North India hospital at Anantnag, which was stormed by protestors, two of whom were shot and killed by security forces.

Meanwhile, the Kashmir Observer reported on Sept. 14 that police had registered a case against Ali Mohammed Sofi, accusing him of leading several hundred people in the attack. The report called the man "a local leader of the regional political ruling party known as the National Conference."