Two Christian churches vandalized by suspected Hindu fundamentalists

Police arrested six suspects but granted them bail because charges were 'minor'
Suspected Hindu fundamentalists were accused of vandalizing two more churches in India over the weekend, in the latest violence against Christians in the Hindu-majority country.

Officials from Kalyan diocese in western India said three masked men on motorcycles approached the St George Catholic Church in New Panvel early on Saturday and threw stones, smashing a glass case protecting the statue of Saint George.

In the other incident on Friday, assailants entered the Cathedral complex of the Jabalpur diocese in central India’s Madhya Pradesh state.

CCTV footage showed a group of men smashing plant pots, breaking down doors and shattering windows on the grounds of the cathedral.

The right-wing Hindu Dharma Sena group had accused the church of converting around 200 people from local tribal groups to Christianity, although it denies causing any damage to church property.

On Monday, state police said they had arrested six people in the Jabalpur attack.

"We arrested six men last night in connection with the vandalism. We are trying to identify more people... there may be more arrests," HC Mishra, a senior state police official, told AFP by telephone.

However, police then later released the group on bail. Mishra told ucanews.com the arrested were given bail because they were charged with “minor offences under the Indian Penal Code”.

Bishop Gerald Almeida of Jabalpur called the releases “very unfortunate”.

“Such kind of tokenism from police would not help bring in confidence among beleaguered Christians,” he said in an interview.

Almeida said on the same night as the Jabalpur attack, assailants entered a school building a kilometer away and beat up Catholics they had found inside. The victims had travelled to the church for an annual Bible convention, he said.

Marko Baba, a Catholic leader in Jabalpur, said he witnessed some of the attack after friends called him to tell him about the disturbance. He told ucanews.com that the assailants accused the victims of participating in conversions.

Religious conversions are highly controversial in India, a secular country where religious freedom is considered a fundamental right. Critics say Hindu hardline groups have become emboldened since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won power in India last year.

The latest attacks on churches show that “the situation is turning [from] bad to worse,” said Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, who heads the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India.

"Some people are bent on dividing the country on religious lines and making it a theocracy,” he told ucanews.com in an interview Monday. “But the majority who believe in the secular credentials of this nation will not allow it to happen.”

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India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi last month pledged to crack down on religious violence and ensure freedom of worship for all faiths. He had been criticized for not speaking out earlier.

Additional reporting by AFP

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