Unidentified miscreants set fire to a Catholic church in Madhya Pradesh on Wednesday in the wake of anti-Christian violence in other parts of India in the past two months.
The incident, which Christians see as an attempt to target the community ahead of the November assembly polls, came to light when some nuns went to the Little Flower Church in Tikamgarh district at 5.15 am and found smoke billowing out.
They immediately informed Fr Siju John, assistant parish priest at the church who in turn called up the police which put out the fire with the help of fire brigade personnel.
"It appears the church was set on fire early in the morning after pouring kerosene or some other inflammable substance," a police official said. Police have registered a case.
"We have ordered a high level enquiry to probe the matter and also identified all the churches in the district for the purpose of providing security," Sushanti Saxena, Tikamgarh police superintendent, told IANS on phone.
Later, district collector KP Rahi, visited the site and reviewed the security of the church.
Reacting to the incident, the spokesperson of the Catholic Church in Madhya Pradesh, Father Anand Muttungal, said: "We want protection and action against the culprits."
While describing the act of desecrating a place of worship as the most heinous one, he said the state government's inaction in such cases in the past has boosted the morale of hooligans to continue to harass the Christian community.
During the present Bharatiya Janata Party government, he said, more than 171 attacks on church personnel, institutions, Christian places of worship and community members have taken place.
The Madhya Pradesh Isai Mahasangh has also asked the state government to provide proper security to Christians in the state. "It is an attempt to terrorise the community ahead of the state assembly polls," alleged Mahasangh president Kurishinkal Joshi.
Satna district Bishop Rev Mathew Vaniakizhakkel alleged that the district administration was not taking the incident seriously. He asked security for Christians.
Orissa and Karnataka have seen violence against Christians in the past two months.