150 year old Pune church suspiciously gutted. Bishop calls for probe.
Maharashtra, November 30, 2011: Bishop Thomas Dabre of Poona in the western Indian state of Maharashtra has demanded a thorough probe into the fire that gutted a 150-year-old Protestant Church on Monday.
“I personally visited the heritage church which has been charred and completely gutted. The altar, copies of the Bibles, hymn books, pulpit, and pews have been destroyed,” the Catholic bishop told ucanews.com Wednesday.
Bishop Dabre said that “as the management of the St Andrew’s Hindustani Covenant Church suspects foul play, we have demanded a thorough forensic examination of the premises to establish the exact cause of the blaze.”
Reverend Thomas Irvin, secretary of the church, said that the fire broke out at around 8 am on Monday and within minutes engulfed the entire structure.
It took five fire tenders and three water tankers to douse the fire, he said.
Police had claimed short circuit as cause of the fire.
Pastor Sachin Masih said “the treasured early Urdu-edition Bibles of 1940s brought from the Covenant Church of East Turkistan and British era Roman Bibles and hymn books in Hindi were gutted in the fire.
He said the prayer service was conducted in Hindi and Urdu languages.
Agreeing to demands of Church leaders, Police Inspector Bajirao Mohite said that a detailed investigation and a forensic examination of the church premises would be carried out to find the exact cause of the fire.
The church was built by the Scottish Mission in 1860 and handed over to the Swedish missionaries.
Maharashtra, November 29, 2011: Treasured early-edition copies of the Urdu Bible were destroyed in a freak conflagaration on Monday morning, at the city’s British-era Hindustani Covenant Church. These copies of the Bible dated back to as early as 1940, when they had been brought to India by missionaries of the Covenant Church from East-Turkistan. They had hence been specially preserved for the last seven decades.
A number of religious and hymn books as well as Roman Bibles of the British era were also destroyed in the mysterious fire, which engulfed the church around 8 am. Devotees who arrived there for prayer services that day were shocked to see their church burnt. Many burst into tears and were consoled by the pastors.
The area was cordoned off as police and forensic experts began an investigation into the incident after vociferous demands by Bishop of Poona Thomas Dabre and the church management, who said the incident was a conspiracy against them.
The wooden interiors of the church were reduced to ashes and smoke continued to billow out of its side doors. All that was left of the ceiling fans, tube lights, pulpit, wooden benches and altar were smouldering ashes. The only thing intact was the Cross mounted on the roof of the church entrance.
Station Fire Officer Sunil Gilbile said it took an hour for the fire brigade to douse the flames. “We had deployed five fire engines and three water tankers to fight the fire. The inferno destroyed a number of artefacts and books kept inside the church, which is a 150-year-old building,” he said.
Bishop Thomas Dabre told Pune Mirror that he and the church management was shocked at the police conclusion that said the fire took place due to a short circuit. “We demand that a detailed forensic probe be carried out to ascertain the cause. We feel there is a conspiracy behind it. It is a heritage structure and it is the government’s responsibility to find the truth. We are disappointed at the manner in which the police issued a statement,” he said.
Pastor Sachin Masih and Pastor Steven David of the church said that they still in shock. “There is more to it than meets the eye — a detailed probe should be carried out by the police,” they said. Samson Bhite, a church management member said, “The church was closed and doors locked. The maid who cleaned the church early in the morning had left by 7 am. We fail to understand how the entire church was burnt in a span of 40 minutes,” he said.
This church was instituted by the Scottish Mission in 1860. It was then handed over to Swedish missionaries and in 1939, they came to Pune for the first time. The church currently has 315 families and over 1,000 members on its roll. Pastor Masih said, “Our entire church service takes place in Hindi and Urdu and hence these Bibles were of crucial importance to us for our prayer services and preaching activities.”
“There is a conspiracy behind this fire. We are disappointed at the manner in which the police issued a statement” – Thomas Dabre, Bishop of Poona.