A Hindu leader yesterday claimed that the rape of an elderly nun last weekend was part of "Christian culture".
"It is a Christian culture to exploit nuns," Surendra Jain, general secretary of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), said. "We don't do such things."
The VHP is a right wing organisation which uses a nationalist ideology to promote 'Hindutva' – equating being Indian with having a Hindu faith. According to the Times, it has almost 7 million members in India, and is part of the same family of Hindu nationalist organisations as Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP.
The VHP regularly holds "reconversion" programmes, where Indian minority communities are encouraged to turn to Hinduism. The group has claimed that conversion to faiths other than Hinduism, including Christianity, is "the root of terrorism".
Speaking yesterday, Jain insisted that the rape at a convent school in West Bengal was not a religiously motivated attack, and instead pointed to sex abuse scandals which have rocked the Catholic Church in recent years. "The Vatican received 5,000 complaints of sexual exploitation in five years prompting the pope to appeal for legalization of gay sex," he said, according to the Times of India.
Jain also defended the demolition of a church under construction in Haryana, in the north of India, which took place on Sunday.
"The church was for the purpose of conversion. Local people had warned against it. But when it went unheeded, they took whatever action they deemed fit," he said.
"This is a spontaneous reaction of the local people. There are no Christians living in the village or around it where the church has been attacked. So why was a church being built there? Will the Christians allow us to make a Hanuman temple in the Vatican? Let them allow that, and we will ask them to choose any place in India for a church. We will fund it."
Modi has condemned both attacks, however, and called for an investigation into the violence. Christians have held protests and candlelit vigils, and many hold Hindu nationalists to blame for the increasing number of atacks on Christians.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide's South Asia spokesperson told Christian Today that there has been a growing trend of attacks on religious minorities – both Christians and Muslims – since the BJP came to power.
"I believe from what we've heard that... the BJP having an overall majority has given these fringe groups that sense of 'majoritarianism' – that sense of being in control and [thinking] 'Let's bring the country back to what we believe it was before'," the spokesperson said.
"They've been promoting a shift away from a secular state, to a more extreme form of Hindu ideology, and it's being done with a sense of impunity."