Loot in the House of GOD!
Over the last six years incidents of crimes committed in places of religious worship has increased; however instead of the robbery graph coming down it only seems to be climbing northward with the Goa police being ineffective in putting a stop to the plunder in temples and churches. GoaChronicle.com investigates… Early this week thieves decamped with 20,000 from Shree Saraswati temple at Tisk Ponda. According to the Ponda police, some unknown persons barged into the temple by breaking open the lock on the front door. They then broke open a donation box kept inside the temple and stole 20,000 from it. The matter came to light on Tuesday morning when the priest of the temple came to perform the regular puja. Police said the priest found that the lock to the temple door was broken so he immediately informed the temple committee. The president of the temple committee lodged a complaint with the Ponda police.
And this is just one of the numbers of incidents, over last six there has been an estimated 250 robberies and 50 desecrations of religious places. Yet the police have failed to bring a stop into these growing numbers of cases or solve the cases.
Thieves rob, Police sleep
Last year saw more than 65 temples and eight churches being raided by the thieves, who have done away with lacs of rupees and priceless antiques. One such antique is an 1806 galsari (necklace) that has Queen Elizabeth’s symbol imprinted on it. This was stolen from the Shantadurga Kitalekarin Devasthan in Quitol, Fatorpa. The theft that took place in Shantadurga Kitalekarin Devasthan few days ago is the biggest till date, where thieves decamped with jewellery and cash worth 30 lakh rupees. Last year, eight churches, including the Macazana church in Curtorim, were robbed. The statues were stolen from the 340-year-old Our Lady of Sea Church of Oxel, Siolim. The statues include two ivory pieces of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception and a cross. Others are a four-foot-tall statue of Our Lady of Sea, statues of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, St. John the Baptist, Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St Anna was stolen. The investigations on this robbery are still on-going.
Immediately after the series of thefts started in the state, the police issued fresh advisories. However, these advisories haven’t been followed by many temples, says Atmaram Deshpande, Superintendent of Police. The police have instructed the authorities in charge to install an alarm and CCTV with at least 30 days of storage capacity at all strategic points. The CCTV footage should be monitored regularly and be made available to the police. We have advised the authorities in charge to employ at least one security guard, if not during the whole day, at least at night,” says SP Deshpande. “The security has to be on a three is to one basis (three policemen and one local). Similarly, we have also advised them not to keep cash and valuables in temples, but to keep them in lockers. The cash box should be emptied on a regular basis. It is just not possible to provide security to all temples throughout the say,” he says. “We can provide security during zatras or any such utsavas, but not all the time,” he reiterates.
Temple, Churches keep watch
In view of a Special Investigation Team’s failure to crack down on the rising incidence of temple thefts and desecration of idols in Goa, more than 300 temples in the state have formed a sort of alliance to tackle the menace.
Jayesh Thali, coordinator of Gomantak Mandir and Dharmik Sanstha Mahasangh (GMDSM), said that the continuing thefts and vandalisation of temples throughout the state and the failure of the state government to take adequate action forced the temple managements to cobble together the alliance.
“In the past six years, more than 50 idols (housed) in 35 temples have been desecrated. Likewise, official records show that more than 250 temples have been looted,” Thali said.
An unending series of thefts in several temples and some churches in the state had forced the Chief Minister, Digambar Kamat, to appoint a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to crack down on the culprits way back in mid 2009.
A year and a half later, while the SIT failed to nab a single accused in the theft cases, the number of break-ins in religious temples and instances of thefts and desecration has only spiralled into three digits.
The state home department had also mooted setting up of a special vigilante force last year by training local youth through the police department and roping in their help to keep vigil in and around temple premises. But that exercise too came to a naught.
Goa archdiocese had recently issued a security advisory asking all church committees in the state to increase vigilance in and around churches. The 15-point advisory was issued after police asked Church authorities to step up security following a spate of thefts and desecrations of statues. “We need to be responsible for our things,” said archdiocese spokesperson Father Franscisco Caldeira.
The advisory states that churches should have at least one security guard from a registered security company on duty at night.If religious institutions can’t afford to employ a company guard they should use volunteers from their locality.
“The police may explore the possibility of giving some honorarium to volunteer guards by writing to the government,” the advisory states.
The archdiocese also recommended reducing access points to places of worship. “Door frame metal detectors may be installed at an entry point and people should also be subjected to a search if they arouse suspicion,” the advisory continued. Closed circuit TVs should be installed at all strategic points in churches, it added.
Here is a list of undetected cases of major temple and church thefts and stolen property
All the above temple and church thefts are undetected till date and police have stopped investigations in some cases. Instead of intensifying night patrol and convicting criminals, the police are advising temples and church committees to hire bank lockers for valuables and arrange their own security systems.
Failure on the police to curb the menace of temple and Church robberies can be a serious tool in the hands of communal intent people which could use this to war one community against each other. Yet the total lack of ineffectiveness of the Goa Police is not being taking seriously by the Goa government. Any question to the Chief Minister or Home Minister on these is often met with a standard answers, “Investigations are on-going, we have set a Special Investigation Team for the same.”
As we go online today there is still over 70 lacs of temple and church thefts which have not yet been solved and priceless antiques worth crores of rupees are missing.