NEW DELHI (AP) — Police detained hundreds of protesters Thursday after they tried to march into a high-security New Delhi neighborhood, accusing the government of failing to investigate a recent spate of church attacks and vandalism incidents.
Police said the protesters were detained as they marched toward the residence of Home Minister Rajnath Singh in a high-security area where protests are banned.
"The protesters have no permission to protest on the road. They can't just march to the home minister's residence. We have to protect the homes of VIPs," a senior police officer, Mukesh Kumar Meena, told New Delhi Television network.
Carrying placards that read "Enough is Enough, What are police doing?" the protesters assembled outside the city's main Sacred Heart Cathedral in central New Delhi.
Police say they have provided security to all 225 churches in the Indian capital. The protest comes after a mysterious fire gutted a church in New Delhi and several other incidents of vandalism at churches across the city.
The protesters blame the attacks on Hindu hardliners.
On Monday, a church was vandalized in New Delhi when unidentified people broke in and desecrated holy objects kept in the church, the fifth such attack on a Christian church since December.
Delhi Archbishop Anil Couto condemned the vandalism and expressed his concern about the string of attacks.
"A clear pattern of orchestrated attacks is emerging as more churches are targeted, vandalized and set on fire," Couto told reporters.
On Thursday, Christians had gathered outside the cathedral, when hundreds of policemen swooped down and dragged them into buses. Several priests and nuns were among those detained by police.
Police usually release protesters they detain in cases such as this by sundown.
Church leaders are demanding that a special panel be set up to investigate the attacks on the churches that have left India's Christian community scared.
"We don't trust the police to conduct an impartial inquiry. We want a panel headed by a high court judge to investigate these attacks," said John Dayal, a church official. "Our demand is for justice and security for the Christian community."
Christians make up about 2.3 percent of India's population of 1.26 billion. They say attacks on churches have increased since Modi's Hindu fundamentalist Bharatiya Janata Party won with an overwhelming majority in national elections last May.