Sunday, April 23, 2017

Desecration of the Cross in Santacruz of India

Desecration of the Cross in Santacruz: A Fact Finding Report
CSSS team: Bodhika Darokar& Suraj Nair
According to the DNA newspaper, a cross near Gaothan Road, Santacruz West was found desecrated and two vehicles were damaged on Wednesday morning, the 12th of April. A news portal stated that unknown criminals had desecrated a cross of Jesus Christ in Santacruz West in the local church by “decorating” it with a garland of slippers. Citing 85 major incidents of alleged persecution of Christians across 20 states last year, a report by a minority and human rights NGO says 2015 saw an unprecedented spike in "intolerance" against the community. (Gohain, 2016) A similar incident took place in Juhu last year in September, 2016 and this February in Kurla. This increasing violence against the community persuaded The Centre for Study of Society and Secularism (CSSS) which has been working for communal harmony in the country since 1993 to find out the facts of the incident that took place in Santacruz.
Background: The East Indian Community in Santacruz West, near the Santacruz station who belong to Christian Catholic faith has been residing in the Gauthan Lane for many generations. According to them, they reside in their ancestral homes and they do not have any other native place. The members of the community are generally lower middle class. The younger generation works at call centers while others have small welding shops or give private tuitions to school children. Their houses are situated in narrow lanes. There are around 100 such ancestral houses with a population of about 300.  A grotto is built at the entrance of Gaothan lane which holds a steel cross of Jesus Christ and a statue of Mother Mary. Precisely opposite the grotto stands a private company named Avenues Pvt. Ltd. and the grotto also shares its wall with Raj Computer’s Academy. Also, there is a parking space for vehicles near the grotto next to which is a clothing store named Shivani Ethnic Girls’ Collection.
The incident being investigated took place during the Holy season of Lent, which is a period of 40 days before Easter when Christians fast and is considered a sacred period. The incidents as narrated in the FIR which the team managed to get a copy of is as follows:
According to the FIR lodged by Mildred Carlos, she had been residing in the Gauthan Lane for the last 21 years. She lived there with her husband and an 18 year old son. Her husband earned a living working as a welder. As was her daily routine, on 12th April too, she was passing by the grotto of Jesus Christ early in the morning at 7 am to go to Sacred Heart church. While passing by, she saw that someone had kept a footwear on the Holy Cross of Jesus Christ. She was scared and sat on the bench of the grotto for a while and then called Anna Gomes. She too saw the footwear on the cross and was scared. The two of them then, called the other community members.
One of the community members, Sherron Elaine D’souza, 36, told Mildred that the windshield of her Wagon R, with the number plate MH 02 BR 7403, had been smashed because she had a rosary hung on her rearview mirror. The windshield of Anna Gomes’ Maruti Swift too, with a number plate MH 04 CM 5061 had been smashed for the same reason. When Mildred Carlos, Anna Gomes and Sherron D’souza went on to check if any other car had been damaged, they realized that their cars were the only ones damaged because there was rosary of Jesus Christ hanging inside. The desecration of the cross of Jesus Christ with a footwear had hurt the sentiments of the community members and hence, they lodged the FIR.
The team after talking to all stake holders arrived at the following conclusions:
1.       According to us, the police are not seriously pursuing the case. That might be because they are trying to shield the real culprits. They are hiding important information about the case from the community members and are trying to close it without thorough investigation. Or on the other hand, the police might be overburdened with work which has made them disinterested in the case.
2.       According to the police, it was an act of a habitual drunkard who was not in his senses. The police theory that the footwear was placed on the cross by the accused not out of communal motive but because he was not in his senses does not seem plausible to us. Even if the accused was drunk, there is no explanation as to why he kept the footwear on the cross. The police said that the accused threw stones at the barking dogs to shoo them away but the damage done to the windshield of only those cars with rosaries hung inside them seems intentional and not just coincidence.
3.       The members of the East Indian community we talked to told us that when they visited the police station for a follow up, the police ill-treated them by telling them that they have done their work by arresting the accused and that the community should not interfere anymore. They sounded desolated and told us that they had given up hopes of a fair investigation. They feel helpless and powerless after the police’s response. They have forgiven and are trying to forget about the matter as nothing else, they think, can be done.
4.       The community members do not feel reassured by the casual attitude of the police and the manner in which the investigation has been handled. The police seem to be taking the entire incident very lightly. They are not showing any signs of interest or seriousness in the matter.
5.       The confession by the accused, on which the police are basing their investigation, has no evidentiary value in the court. The police will still have to gather concrete evidence like the other footwear of the pair, blood stains left on the bench of the grotto and panchnama of the place to validate the arrest of the accused and the closing of the case.
6.       The incident seems to be motivated by hate crime on one hand. On the other hand, it has been done to make the Christian community feel insecure and powerless given the fact that it has happened during the Holy season of Lent.
7.       There have been many such incidents where the Holy cross has been desecrated in recent times and this may not be the last incident in hate crime targeting minorities and negligence of the polite will only encourage the occurrences of such cases.
        The following are the demands put forth by the CSSS team: 
1.       The police needs to be serious about the issue in order to carry out thorough and scientific investigation. Any carelessness by them will only motivate more such hate mongers.
2.       If the case is not being handled by the Santacruz Police Station, it must be assigned to higher officials. The investigation procedure must be carried out under proper supervision.
3.       The crime must be investigated to find other co-conspirators, abettors or other persons involved in the crime having common intention. Organizations that struggle for civil liberties and human rights need to take this as a warning signal and intervene to defend the rights of minorities and all hate crimes.
4.       Area peace committee should be activated and regular peace activities to promote communal harmony should be undertaken.


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