Nuns at a candlelight march in Allahabad against the gang-rape of a nun in Kolkata. (Agence-France Presse)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has expressed deep concern over the rape of a 72-year-old nun in West Bengal and an attack on a church under construction in Haryana. He has sought a report immediately.
"PM is deeply concerned about the incidents in Hisar, Haryana and Nadia, West Bengal," the Prime Minister's Office tweeted this morning, adding, "PMO has asked for immediate report on facts & action taken regarding the incidents in Haryana & West Bengal."
The Prime Minister's move, though, drew fire from the Aam Aadmi Party. Senior AAP leader Ashutosh said showing concern does not help. "Members of the RSS, VHP vandalises, PM just shows his concern. There is a pattern here. They are all party to these acts. On one hand their own people are vandalise churches and then PM seeks report," news agency ANI quoted him as saying.
Christians prayed and held vigils across the country on Monday to protest against the rape during an armed assault on a Bengal convent school, the worst in a series of incidents that followers of the faith say are making them feel unwelcome in their own country.
They said Mr Modi's government has not done enough to protect their religion. Former Mumbai Commissioner Julio Ribeiro said many people had voted for the BJP, expecting it would less corrupt. "Then suddenly, we find there is no talk about jobs and development but about people wanting to reconvert. I think they have got their priorities all wrong," he said.
Police said they have detained 10 people who broke into the Convent of Jesus and Mary School in Nadia district, northeast of Kolkata on Saturday. The man suspected of rape has not been caught.
The rape survivor, who is still in hospital, has appealed for peace. "The nun has said she has forgotten the incident, has forgiven the crime and has asked all to pray for the culprits," said another nun who visited her on Monday.
Angry crowds blocked the convoy of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for almost an hour when she traveled to Ranaghat to meet the nun on Monday.
A few days ago, a Catholic church being built in Haryana was vandalized; its cross was removed and a small statue of the Hindu god Hanuman was placed in the church. Police are investigating the incident and have detained two persons so far.
Father Savari Muthu, spokesman for the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese and a national Church organiser, said "We have to raise our voice against the atrocities. Christians will not tolerate this humiliation."
Father Muthu said schools across the country held prayer meetings on Monday. Christians held a silent protest in the streets of Mumbai on Sunday.
Weeks ago, Mohan Bhagwat, the leader of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), suggested that the charitable work of Mother Teresa had been aimed at religious conversion.
Critics say the remarks by the chief of the RSS, the ideological mentor of the ruling BJP, contributed to a climate where Christians are seen as outsiders, despite a more than 1,500-year presence in India.
The RSS has condemned the rape of the elderly nun.
"No attack should be tolerated on any woman in India. Be it a Hindu, a Muslim or a Christian," Suresh Joshi, RSS general secretary, told reporters on Sunday.
Opposition lawmakers in the Rajya Sabha or Upper House of Parliament on Monday said the attack could damage the secular fabric of the country, where about a fifth of the population belongs to faiths other than Hinduism.
Since December, half a dozen churches have been vandalized.
In February, shortly after U.S. President Barack Obama called for respect for religious freedom in India, PM Modi broke a long silence on the subject and, speaking at a church event, vowed a crackdown on religious violence.