One of India’s leading Catholic figures has called on the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to focus as much attention on human beings as it does cows, days after a 71-year-old nun was gang-raped at a convent in West Bengal.
Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, the head of the country’s Catholic bishops, made the comments to journalists before paying a visit to the nun who is recovering in hospital.
“The country has a responsibility towards all of us – every human being – and not just cows”, Cardinal Baselios was quoted as saying.
His comments also follow a ban on the sale of beef by the government of Maharashtra – a move backed by many conservative Hindu organizations.
Cows are considered sacred by many Indians but beef is eaten by some poor and lower-caste Hindus as well as by Christians and Muslims.
The attack on the nun has sparked protests and prayer vigils across India. Police have not established whether the assault motive was religion or money.
Prime Minister Modi said he was “deeply concerned” and demanded a detailed report into what happened.
The attack was the most serious in a series of incidents that have spread fear among Christians since activists, emboldened by Modi’s election victory last year, began their “ghar wapsi” (homecoming) campaign to convert followers of “foreign religions” – including Christianity and Islam – to Hinduism.
Indian Christians emphasise their religion’s long history in India and say it is an integral part of the country.
Some Hindu hardliners, however, are seeking to define the country as primarily an Hindu nation, in which other religions are guests.
The same weekend as the convent school was attacked, activists partly demolished a church being built in the state of Haryana, near Delhi, replacing its cross with a Hindu image.
A few days before the demolition, a member of parliament for Modi’s Hindu nationalist ruling party, Subramanian Swamy, was criticised for saying that churches and mosques were not sacred buildings.