INDIA: Kashmir churches relieved at 'tough action' against Quran protests

September 23, 2010

Church leaders in charge of the tiny Christian community in India's troubled Kashmir region have thanked the government for protecting them during recent violent protests.

More than 25 protesters were killed and many more injured when security forces fired on mobs venting their anger on scattered Christian centers in Kashmir following reports that there had been a desecration of the Quran in the United States.

"We are thankful to the government for protecting our people and centers with determination," said Bishop Pradeep Kumar Samantaroy, who heads the Church of North India's Amritsar diocese that covers Kashmir.

Samantaroy spoke to ENInews on Sept. 21 after returning from a meeting in Kashmir with leaders and the police chief from India's northernmost states of Jammu and Kashmir, where he thanked them for protecting the Christian community.

During the trip, the CNI prelate also visited the church's Tyndale Biscoe School at Tangmarg, 45 kilometers (27 miles) from the state capital of Srinagar. The school had been razed to the ground by protesters on Sept. 13 along with the Roman Catholic Good Shepherd High School in Pulwama.

The attacks on Christian targets followed reports by an Iranian television channel that there had been a desecration of the Quran in the United States by some protesters to mark the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks there that killed thousands of people.

Roman Catholic Bishop Peter Celestine Elampassery of Jammu Srinagar diocese told ENInews that though the protests were widespread, no Christians were harmed "due to the timely and stern action" by the security forces.

Eighteen protesters were killed on Sept. 13 after police opened fire in various parts of Kashmir when mobs tried to storm churches, Christian schools and hospitals.

"Perhaps, vested interests were trying to capitalize on the Quran desecration for their political gain. But the people realized the government would not tolerate attacks on the minority Christians," explained Elampassery.

The Indian side of Kashmir, which traverses into Pakistan, has been in turmoil in recent months following a rise in street protests by Muslims demanding cessation from predominantly Hindu India. They want to be united with Muslim-majority Pakistan, which controls other parts of Kashmir.

About 5,000 Christians live among the Muslim majority in the Kashmir valley, which is nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas.