MUMBAI, India – Two days after Father Joseph Attuchalil of the Palai diocese was assaulted in Kerala, Archbishop Mar Andrews Thazhath of Thrissur accused the government of “ignoring Christians in minority welfare programs.”

Addressing a Feb. 25 forum organized by the Thrissur archdiocese of the Syro-Malabar Church in India, said the Samudaaya Jagratha Sadas – which means Awakening of Community/Society and was the subject of the meeting – was a voice raised against the growing injustice against the Christian community, The Hindu reported.

The meeting condemned the increasing attacks against the Church and its institutions and demanded protection under the Constitution.

“We will turn the other cheek if anyone slaps us on the one cheek. But we will definitely ask them why they had slapped us. The program is meant to bring the issues faced by the Church and the believers to the attention of the political leaders and society,” the archbishop said.

Kerala is a state in southern India. According to the 2011 census, 54 percent of Kerala’s population are Hindus, 26 percent are Muslims, 18 percent are Christians.

Addressing the meeting, Auxiliary Bishop Mar Tony Neelankavil asked the faithful to ask questions to those who approach them for votes.

“We need to fight against vote-bank politics unitedly. We have to understand the changing stances of political leaders,” he said.

In a resolution, the meeting demanded that the Union government end attacks against Christians and Christian institutions in places such as Manipur.

The State government must end discrimination against Christian community in distributing minority welfare schemes, it said.

On Feb. 23, the assistant vicar of St. Mary’s Forane Church in Poonjar was struck by a car when he objected to their racing inside the  church compound.

A group of students from the Government Higher Secondary School in Erattupetta entered the church campus in eight cars  after completing their exams and engaged in drag-racing on the church grounds.

The resulting noise disrupted church activities, prompting Attuchalil to request their departure. Despite his plea, the boys reportedly ignored him. While attempting to close the gate, he was struck by a speeding car. The priest was subsequently taken to a private hospital and is currently in stable condition.

In protest of the incident, church authorities organized a march in Poonjar demanding action against the accused.

Six out of the eight cars used by the accused were impounded by the police.

“The group consisted of more than 25 students, and we are making efforts to apprehend the remaining members. Among the arrested, eight students who were driving the cars are adults, while the other two are minors. All the boys were Plus Two students and they arrived on the church ground to celebrate after their farewell party in the school,” said an official.

The Syro-Malabar Church labeling the attack on the priest as an affront to the religious freedom of Christians and a blatant violation of the right to worship.

In a press release on 24 Feb issued by the Syro-Malabar Public Affairs Commission, the Church expressed its unequivocal condemnation of the attack, emphasizing the imperative of bringing both the perpetrators and the masterminds behind the assault to justice.

The violence against the priest is “totally condemnable and the government should take strong action,” demanded the Church’s Public Affairs Commission.

The commission says disturbing church services and attacking the priest “can only be understood as an encroachment on the religious freedom and worship rights of the Christians.”

“There is reason to believe that the incident was aimed at creating religious rivalry, and not an act by criminals or for drug mafia groups,” it said.

The commission wants the government to probe the incident and identify and punish those who had instigated the youths.

With the upcoming parliamentary election, various political parties have seized upon the issue, advocating for decisive measures against the offenders.

Kerala Congress (M) chairman Jose K. Mani and Kerala Congress leader Francis George have called for severe action against those who trespassed on church property and attacked the priest.

Meanwhile, Poonjar legislator Sebastian Kulathungal visited the injured priest at the hospital on Saturday.