Vandals have struck a church in India and destroyed two statues there a day after a top government official described the attacks against Christians in the past months as criminal acts and not hate crimes.
Authorities have yet to pinpoint as to the perpetrators of the attack at St. Mary's Church in Agra, the city known as the home to the Taj Mahal.
The church's parish priest, however, suspects that Hindu hardliners could have had a hand into the vandalism.
Parish priest Eugene Lazarus said his car alarm went off around 3:30 a.m. on April 16, rousing him from sleep.
When he went to check, he saw the vehicle's windshield smashed and all its four doors had been forced open.
Inspecting the church compound later on, the priest said he saw the church gate open as well.
The statues, including one of Mary, the mother of Jesus, which had been placed inside glass cases at the grottos of the church, were strewn on the floor and destroyed.
"One statue was made from fiberglass and they could not smash it," Lazarus told ucanews.com in an interview.
"They seemed to have put a dog leash round the neck of the statue and pulled it from its stand."
"In putting the dog chain around the neck of the Mother Mary, intruders have wanted to hurt our religious feelings," he noted.
Lazarus recalled that in the church's 93-year history, it had not encountered any similar attack.
"People lived here peacefully. The church is open for all people, and even Hindus come and pray in the church," he said. "It was such a friendly atmosphere that we did not even think of having a guard for the church."
At least six churches in Delhi have been vandalized since December last year, along with a string of attacks against Christians in India. One of the worst incidents recorded is the rape of an elderly nun.
Police have arrested four suspects in connection with the rape incident, which stoked public outrage.
The attack at St. Mary's Church follows a commentary made by India's finance minister Arun Jaitly, who shrugged off the plight of Christians in the country as merely "law and order problems."
In a television interview, Jaitly pointed out that not "a single case [attack] was carried out by the majority community ... nor were they of a political nature or communal."
Sought for comment, an official of the Archdiocese of Delhi censured the finance minister for his remarks, saying his comments ran contrary to what was happening on the ground.
"How can he make such statements? He may say the attacks are not communal, but how can he be so sure that they are not by the majority community? Is he suggesting minority communities are attacking Christians?" said Father Dominic Emmanuel, archdiocese spokesperson.
"I seriously suspect these attacks, including the one in Agra, are part of an anti-Christian campaign," the priest said.