India: 600 violent attacks on Christians and Muslims since May

Christians held protests and candlelit vigils in the wake of the attack on an elderly nun last week.Reuters

More than 40 people have been killed in 600 violent attacks on Christians and Muslims in India since May last year, according to a new report.

One of the worst was the rape of a 70 year old Nun in West Bengal in an attack on a convent and school last week that sent shockwaves throughout India and the world. In response, Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, president of the Catholic bishops conference, said the country should work to "protect not just cows, but human beings also."

Documenting Hate and Communal Violence, a report by the Evangelical Fellowship of India, chronicles the violence against Muslims and Christians since Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist, was elected prime minister at the end of May last year.

Of the 600-plus attacks, 149 were against Christians and the rest against Muslims.

The figures do not incude the 108 people killed in Assam in attacks by armed tribal political groups on Muslims.

The report chronicles the desecration and destruction of churches, assault on pastors, illegal police detention of church workers and the denial of constitutional rights regarding freedom of faith. It describes "a ceaseless attempt to create a divide between 'us' and 'them'."

The report also claims the last 300 days have also seen an assault on democratic structures, the education system and human rights organisations.

One influential member of parliament, who is a member of Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party, has called for the death sentence for anyone who converts a Hindu to another religion. He was also quoted on Indian television and in print media as saying every Hindu woman should have at least four children in order to protect the predominance of Hindus.

"Wait for some time," he said, according to local media. "A law will be passed in Parliament in which anyone indulging in cow slaughter and conversion will be punished with the death sentence."

The report describes the rape of the nun in a convent in Ranaghat in West Bengal as "the most horrendous crime reported in the first quarter of 2015." According to the complaint lodged by the school, seven to eight armed people overpowered the security guard and stormed its compound. Over the next two hours, they raped the nun, desecrated the chapel, and then, as one nun told the police, treated themselves to "imported chocolates, cake and pastries" meant for the students.

A police report submitted to the state government said the criminals were "not locals" and this was a pre-planned attack on the school and sisters.