06/15/2005, 00.00
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Convent attacked, nuns held overnight

by Nirmala Carvalho

Bhiwadi (AsiaNews) – The Convent of the Franciscans Sisters of Our Lady of Grace, in Bhiwadi (Rajasthan) came under attack again last night. Three armed men burst into the religious house and held the resident nuns captive overnight.

This incident comes in the wake of two other violent attacks against women religious in two convents on June 9 in the State of Bihar.

Sister Deepti, Our Lady of Grace Superior, told AsiaNews what happened.

"Whilst we were fast asleep on the June 11, I heard a sound at around 1 am. I got up and knocked on the room next door to wake up the other nun who was staying in the convent. When I went to switch on the lights, I found that there was no electricity. I immediately tried to phone for help, but the phone was dead," she said. (They later discovered that the attackers had cut phone and power lines).

"We went to the main door to investigate the cause of the sounds . . . we thought that, perhaps, someone had come to the convent for help," she added. Instead, in the darkness the nuns saw nothing until three masked, knife-wielding men came at them.

"They hit me on the shoulder and legs," Sister Deepti explained. "I was so frightened and began screaming for help [. . .]. Unfortunately, there was no one in the vicinity to help us since most of our neighbours were away on holiday".

At once, the three attackers demanded 100,000 rupees (around US$ 1,900), threatening the frightened women with the knives and shouting at them: "You're nuns; you have lots of money from donations".

"I went to the locker and gave them all there was: 7,000 rupees. But this angered them further—they refused to believe that we did not have any more money."

The men then started ransacking the convent house looking for more money. They found another 1,000 rupees in one of the cabinets in my private room and this angered them further.

"They threatened to harm our domestic kitchen-girl [and] said they would sell her if we told any more lies about not having money," Sister Deepti said.

"This nightmare went on for more than three hours. At around 3 am, they tore the window curtains and bound our hands and feet together, tying up our mouths to prevent us from calling out for help. Then they opened the fridge, and ate and drank. Around 4 am, they finally left."

On the morning of 12th, when the nuns did not show up for mass in the parish church, the Priest sent his sacristan to the convent to find out why they had not come.

After finding the gate to the convent locked as the attackers had left it when they made their escape, the Sacristan jumped over and came into the building through a window. Inside he found the nuns bound and gagged and released them.

As soon as he was told of what happened, the parish priest rushed to the convent bringing the police with him so that they could take down the nuns' statements.

Sister Deepti told AsiaNews about her concerns since, as she put it, "this is not the first time that we are attacked. On the night of the 5th [of June], our Chapel was ransacked, and our Tabernacle was robbed. This is a very serious desecration. It is not a simple robbery, as every one is aware of the sacredness of the tabernacle."

"Mgr Ignatius Mendez, Bishop of Ajmer-Jaipur, promised he would look into them matter since to date the police has failed to arrest anyone involved," she added.

"We need protection," Sister Deepti stressed, "because, in addition to being an attack against Christians, it is also an act of violence against women,"

The June 9 attacks were carried out against the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in Sokho, in the diocese of Bhagalpur, and Notre Dame Convent in the diocese of Bettiah, where a gang of 15 men attacked the local nuns, leaving one of them—Sister Manjula—so badly bruised that she had to be hospitalized.

John Dayal, Secretary General of the All India Christian Union, said to AsiaNews: "We make a distinction between crime in general and religious crime in particular [. . .]. In India, religious places are taboo; no one unless demented would wilfully rob a temple or a mosque, but why are our convents and churches being robbed and desecrated? [. . .] We are extremely worried [. . .]. The Central Government must caution the State governments [so that they] protect the minority communities. They must send a positive signal" to them.

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