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Christian Leaders Speak Out About Attack on Indian Convent

Muslims protesting the rape of a 71-year-old nun at a convent in Ranaghat, India. (Shaikh Azizur Rahman for VOA News)

Days after the rape of a 71-year-old nun, the vandalizing of a chapel, and the looting of money at a missionary school in eastern India, authorities there say they believe that robbery was not the primary motive of the attackers.

Some Christian organizations say the attack on the Convent of Jesus and Mary School in Nadia district, 80 kilometers northeast of Kolkata, was part of an ongoing anti-Christian hate campaign across India.

A gang of at least seven men entered the school during the early hours Saturday, tied up its security guard and forced their way into the rooms where three nuns, including the 71-year-old Sister Superior, were sleeping.

After the gang fled the scene, it was discovered that the Sister Superior lay bleeding after apparently being raped. It also was found that the men had looted cash and some other valuables from the school and desecrated some holy items in the convent chapel.

Rape of Nun Sends Shockwaves Across India

It was largely reported in the media that “bandits” had robbed the school and raped the elderly nun because she tried to resist the heist. It also was reported that police were investigating whether the incident was related to the recent expulsion of a student from the school.

However, school administrators dismiss those reports.

“When the men demanded the money from the Sister Superior, she quietly followed their command and showed them where the cash of the school was kept," said Father Faustine Brank, a member of the school’s managing committee. "They took away about 130,000 rupees (U.S. $2,160) of cash. Then, they broke into the chapel and desecrated some holy items there. The 71-year-old Sister Superior did not put up any resistance against the men. We cannot figure out why they launched that horrifying and violent physical attack on such an old nun."

Bangiya Christiya Pariseba, a Kolkata-based body of Christian organizations in West Bengal, issued a statement alleging the attack was religiously motivated, and hinting that the assailants belonged to Hindu right-wing groups.

The group's president Herod Mullick said the assailants chose the senior-most nun for the sexual attack because they wanted to inflict the maximum amount of pain and humiliation on the Christian community.

“Why did they break into the chapel and defile or desecrate the holy items there when they knew that there was nothing valuable there? Why did they choose to launch the heinous sexual attack on the 71-year-old Sister Superior of the convent, leaving aside one or two younger nuns there? We have very strong reasons to believe that it was a communally-motivated attack which is part of the ongoing nationwide hate campaign against the religious minorities,” Mullick said.

Search for Suspects Ongoing

The rape of the nun sparked Christian protests across the country. Police have detained at least 15 suspects, but no one has been arrested.

Arnab Ghosh, the district police chief, said Tuesday an extensive search is being conducted for those involved.

Muslims joined Christians in protest against the rape of the 71-year-old nun in a rare show of solidarity, Ranaghat, India. (Shaikh Azizur Rahman for VOA News)
Muslims joined Christians in protest against the rape of the 71-year-old nun in a rare show of solidarity, Ranaghat, India. (Shaikh Azizur Rahman for VOA News)

India’s prime minister said he is “deeply concerned” about the rape of the convent nun.

John Dayal, a spokesman for the New Delhi-based United Christian Forum for Human Rights, said that despite assurances from Indian authorities, right-wing Hindu attacks on religious minorities continue unabated.

“When you are terrorizing a community, you are insulting objects of their faith. What else can I do but infer that this is part of the pattern, or it's almost a template of violence against religious minorities - in this case the Christians in India,” he said.

While recalling the events of March 14, Sister Shanthi, principal of the school, broke into tears and said the attackers slapped and tortured her for hours. She said she wants justice for the attack on the convent and the Sister Superior’s rape.

“I will not leave this state until I get justice... come what may," she said.

Concern Over Sexual Violence Against Women.

The attack came at a time of growing concern about sexual violence against women in India.

Earlier month, India prohibited the release of the documentary film "India's Daughter," focusing on the 2012 Delhi gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman, and also asked video-sharing website YouTube to remove all links to the documentary.

The Indian government said it was banning the film on the ground it could fuel public anger because it includes an interview with Mukesh Singh, one of six men who raped the physiotherapy student.

In the film, Singh told a BBC filmmaker that “a girl is far more responsible for rape than a man.”

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