|(Top) Policemen stand guard outside the church on Sunday; Father Antony Kariyattil sifts through remains of the burnt Bible. Pictures by Palash Debnath
Jalalkhali, Dec. 4: A church here in Nadia was looted and vandalised allegedly by local youths out to avenge a priest's campaign against their alcohol abuse and eve-teasing.
The burglars burned the communion bread and pages of the Bible after ransacking a storeroom adjacent to the prayer hall. They took away a silver crown, 10 silver cross-chains and others with silver pendants before fleeing the 50-year-old church, 10 km from Krishnagar town.
The incident comes three years after the daring Christmas-Eve heist at a church in Maliapota, also in Nadia.
Forty masked men armed with revolvers and other weapons had then robbed about 1,200 villagers who had congregated for Midnight Mass and cleaned out the church's safe boxes and assaulted head priest Fr T.J. Abraham.
With less than three weeks to go for Christmas police have decided to step up security around churches in the district.
At Jalalkhali, 75 km from Calcutta, police this afternoon picked up Nandadulal Mondal, a local youth, in connection with last night's looting.
Preliminary investigations have revealed that a section of the local youths carried out the break-in to scare the church authorities, particularly Fr Antony Kariyattil.
Fr Kariyattil had launched a campaign against some of their activities.
'Since Puja, some local youths used to get drunk and trespass into the church compound. They often teased girls in the village. I tried to put a stop to all this. I went and spoke to the local panchayat and sought the members' co-operation,' said Kariyattil.
The priest said he had also repeatedly told the police about the youths, but to no avail.
District magistrate Rajesh Pandey said: 'Local rowdies were disturbing the church authorities. It appears to be a case of revenge as the priest was trying to build a campaign against their behaviour.'
He added: 'I have instructed the police to take strong action against the culprits. We will not tolerate such things.'
Pandey met district police chief R. Rajsekharan today.
Kariyattil, the parish priest who is in charge of four local churches, said: 'It's an attack on our souls. We can't accept the burning of the holy Bible and the communion bread.'
The break-in came to light around 5.30 am when caretaker Sujan Khan entered the building using the rear door. 'I saw thick smoke hanging in the store and then the devastation. I cried out for the other villagers,' Khan said.
His wife Sabita was the first to rush in. The rest, like Sujit Barui and Suresh Gyne ' both daily labourers who attend the church service regularly ' followed.
'Initially, we thought the room was on fire. We were shocked and started weeping once we realised that the Bible and the communion bread had been burned,' Sabita said.
The villagers surrounded additional superintendent of police Biswarup Ghosh and demanded immediate arrest of the culprits.