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Prayers held across India for Bengal nun gangraped at convent

india Updated: Mar 16, 2015 01:33 IST

Prayers were said at churches across India on Sunday for an elderly nun who was gangraped at a convent in an attack that has intensified anger over sexual violence and fuelled fears among beleaguered Christians.

The assault on the 71-year-old comes amid a spate of attacks on churches that prompted Prime Minister Narendra Modi to promise a crackdown on religious violence.

The nun was attacked late Friday after a gang of half a dozen robbers broke into a convent school in West Bengal state and ransacked the premises, police said.

The robbers gagged a security guard before assaulting the nun. They then entered the principal's room and stole cash, a laptop and a mobile phone, according to police.

Four of the six attackers have been identified through CCTV footage and a reward of Rs 100,000 is on offer for any leads on the suspects.

Eight others have been detained for questioning, but a breakthrough has proved elusive so far.

Arnab Ghosh, a police superintendent who visited the convent near the town of Ranaghat, said the robbery appeared to have been carefully planned.

"CCTV footage showed that six men, aged between 20 and 30, scaled the boundary wall around 11:40 pm and entered the school and disconnected the telephone lines," he told AFP.

"At least two of them were armed and the rest were carrying burglary tools. In the chapel, a holy scripture was found torn and... a bust of Jesus was broken," Ghosh said.

Prayers were held Sunday in churches in West Bengal for the nun, who is recuperating at a hospital in Ranaghat, some 70 kilometres (45 miles) from the state capital Kolkata.

"In our Sunday Mass, we prayed for the sister to recover quickly from trauma, fear and her physical injuries," Thomas D'Souza, the archbishop of Kolkata, told AFP.

'A heinous crime'

"They not only committed a heinous crime, but they also vandalized the chapel... This is the first time such an attack has happened in India."

Christian leaders in Kolkata said they were planning to hold a candlelight vigil on Monday followed by a solidarity rally in support of the victim.

"We are shocked that a thing like this has happened in our state. We want the culprits to be arrested and brought to justice swiftly," Father Saroj Biswas told the NDTV news network.

Late Sunday, a church under construction in Haryana state was vandalised and the cross replaced by an idol of Hanuman, the PTI reported.

Senior police officer Saurabh Singh told PTI a case has been registered against 14 people.

In Goa, which has a sizeable Christian population, the attack on the nun was condemned during the morning mass while there were also prayers for her in New Delhi.

The gang-rape has added to the sense of fear and dismay among the Christian minority, which has been deeply upset by attacks on churches. Modi had been heavily criticised for not speaking out earlier against religious violence and has also faced flak for remaining silent about a spate of mass "re-conversions" of Christians and Muslims to Hinduism.

"Even if you call (the rape) an isolated incident, the background and the atmosphere for such an attack had already been there, so you cannot simply ignore it as a one-off incident," Father Savarimuthu Sankar, a spokesperson for the Delhi diocese, told AFP.

The incident also adds to a grim record of horrifying sexual assaults in India, which last week banned a documentary about a December 2012 gangrape that sparked domestic and international outrage.

The deadly assault on the young physiotherapy student highlighted the frightening level of violence against women and triggered mass protests.

It led to a major reform of rape laws, speeding up trials and increasing penalties, although many campaigners say little has changed for women on the ground.