Attack against Udaipur sisters "targeted all missionaries"
by Nirmala Carvalho

The bishop of the diocese told AsiaNews he is "worried" because violence against Christians in Rajasthan "is increasing all the time". The spokesman of the bishops' conference: "We have never broken the law and proselytism charges are unfounded".

Delhi (AsiaNews) – "A pre-planned attack targeting missionaries" made even more serious because "the violence was against women", said the bishop of Udaipur diocese. Mgr Joseph Pathalil was giving AsiaNews his reactions to the attack on five sisters of the Congregation of the Virgins of the Lord.

The sisters were beaten with sticks on the street on 25 October while they waited for the bus in Bhanaria, a town in the south of the western state of Rajasthan. One of them, Mother Rosario, aged 68, was seriously injured and the rest suffered minor injuries.

Said the bishop: "These nuns give their lives to empower the poor and illiterate of all faith and castes. They work silently in the educational and medical areas providing the basics for the betterment of the lives of these very same people who attacked them.

"We are certainly very concerned because the escalating anti-Christian violence in Rajasthan is undeniable and inexplicable. These noble venerable nuns are only doing good to the local people but the fundamentalists do not want us here at all. They enjoy the tacit protection of the government and no one can stop them."

Problems started on 16 October in the diocese, when the holding of a Eucharistic procession in the area was announced. Some representatives of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS – a paramilitary movement of fundamentalist nationalists) protested with the authorities and accused Catholics of planning forced conversions among the tribal people. The police escorted the procession, which passed off uneventfully. The fundamentalists blocked the bishop's car in protest as he was leaving the event to return home and pelted it with stones. The bishop managed to escape unharmed.

The Indian Bishops' Conference (CBCI) is also "shocked and bewildered" about increased violence in the state because "Catholic religious and missionaries have always provided selfless service to the most marginalized people in Indian society".

Fr Babu Joseph, spokesman of the Bishops' Conference told AsiaNews that "the Christian community is known as a law-abiding community". Accusations of conversions raised by fundamentalists to justify their violence are unfounded: "Only a miniscule part of the population of Rajasthan has joined the Christian faith. Besides, there is no authentic or proven case of coercion or forced conversion."

John Dayal, president of the All India Catholic Union and member of the National Integration Council said: "I have written to the Indian prime minister because remonstrations with the state government have failed. The national commission for minorities has failed to take action to stop this violence especially in Rajasthan. We are calling on the Federation to put a stop to all these acts and to punish the guilty once and for all".