Bhopal (AsiaNews) A group of Hindu activists stormed their way into the room where the Madhya Pradesh Christian Association (MPCA) had organised a press conference. The two women raped a few days ago for not abjuring Christianity were also present.
The incident began when the head of the MPCA, Indira Iyengar, was presenting an analysis of the role religion plays in Indian society as well as describing the suffering Christians have to endure. She was interrupted by a group of Hindu activists from the Bajrang Dal who stormed their way into press conference shouting that attempts to discredit their religion should stop. "I will not allow anyone to sully the name of Hindu nationalist organisations," the group's leader, Devendra Singh Rawat, was heard saying out loud. Ms Iyenger who tried to reply was prevented from saying or doing anything when the activists began thrashing the place.
When the police later arrived, both activists and Ms Iyenger were told to leave the premises.
Madhya Pradesh state government issued a press release expressing its disapproval of the conduct of the group of Hindu activists. "Nobody has the right to disturb the press meet if such an incident took place", Public Relations Minister Narendra Singh Tomar told reporters. "Such incident should not have happened", he said.
"They are favoured by the state," Fr Anand Muttungal told AsiaNews. "They behave with arrogance and it is really bad that they dared stop a press conference organised by Christians," said the clergyman, who is also spokesman for the state Bishops' Conference.
"They want to intimidate me, get me to give up," Ms Iyengar told AsiaNews. "They are really serious in their attitude. They shouted at me in public. It is not only a lack of respect towards Christians but also towards the basic rights of every woman."
John Dayal, head of the All India Catholic Union, issued a press release also touching on religious intolerance and violence against women.
"We call on the government," the statement said, "not to close its eyes but to arrest those who commit acts of violence. We call on the police to hear complaints and investigate violent acts against the Christian community."
On May 28, two Madhya Pradesh women raped for refusing to abjure Christianity tried to press charges at a police station but local officers refused to hear them since the accusations involved men powerful in state politics and close to the current state government. Only after higher authorities such as the political superintendent intervened did local police allow the victims to formally file charges.
"Women are the weakest segment of our society," Mr Dayal's statement reads. "Conviction in case of violence [against them] should be clear."
"Official data show that in India a woman is raped every 30 minutes, murdered every 75. In most cases, women are burnt for failing to bring enough dowry money," he noted. "What is more, the number of female feticide has doubled since 2004 according to Police National Crime Records Bureau."
"The capital New Delhi is the least safe place for women in the country with one third of all rape cases. Some of the women are Christian but religion does not play any significant role in a majority of cases. But the case of the two women in Madhya Pradesh is different. It is reminiscent of a similar case of gang violence against nuns in Jhabua some years ago."
"The two women were singled out for brutal treatment," Mr Dayal said. "The gang attacked the Christians at 10 pm on May 28, beat up the men, took away and raped their wives. Who did it is known. They are called Lulla, Nandla, Kalu, Rewal Singh, and Sakaram, and they are from the same village".
For Mr Dayal this should be sufficient to get both state and Union (federal) authorities to adopt and implement laws that stop violence against religious minorities and protect them.