Police in eastern India's Jharkhand state have arrested seven Hindus connected with assaulting and tonsuring a group of Christians after accusing them of slaughtering cows.
More than 60 right-wing Hindu activists, armed with sticks and iron roads, forced their way into Bherikudar village on Sept. 16 morning.
"This is a barbaric act demeaning human dignity," Bishop Vincent Barwa of Simdega, where the incident took place, told UCA News on Sept. 28.
The Hindu group beat up the indigenous Christians and forced them to chant praises to Hindu gods, local Christians told UCA News.
"They thrashed us badly with sticks and alleged that we are slaughtering cows and selling beef in the market," said Raj Singh, a pastor who was among the victims.
Singh said they were also forced to chant "Jai Sri Ram" (hail to Lord Ram). When they objected, "they garlanded us with shoes," a grievous form of insult in India. They also "partially tonsured our heads" in another form of ridicule and insult.
Jharkhand has a law that prohibits the slaughter of cows, revered animals for Hindus. The law also prohibits the possession, transportation and sale of beef in any form. Violations are punishable with a jail term of 1-10 years and a fine up to 10,000 rupees (US$142).
Police told media that they arrested seven people connected with the violence and charged them under the stringent law that prohibits atrocities against indigenous tribes and low-caste people.
A senior police official investigating the incident told UCA News that they "could not find any evidence of Christians slaughtering cows."
More people associated with the violence will be arrested soon, he said.
Bishop Barwa told UCA News that "no one expects such violence in a civilized, democratic society."
"If the assaulters had any evidence to prove a violation of the law, they should have produced it before the police and sought action against the violators," the bishop said.
The law was enacted when the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ran the government. The BJP is accused of pushing an agenda of making India a Hindu-only nation.
Jharkhand is among Indian states where Christians regularly face violence from Hindu groups.
The BJP lost the 2019 state election, which helped an alliance led by secular parties come to power.
Several Christian leaders view the attack as a political ploy by the BJP, which is fast losing its political base after its defeat in the last election.
"Now the BJP is trying to divide society into religious lines by whipping up the emotive cow issue," said Prabhakar Tirkey, who heads Rashtriya Isai Mahasangh, a federation of Christians of all denominations.
He told UCA News on Sept. 28 that right-wing Hindu activists believe attacking religious minorities could help the BJP emerge as the champion of Hindu causes and protector of Hindu culture and life.
On Sept. 20, four days after the Simdega Christians were attacked, a Christian family in Ranchi district was attacked.
"They were thrashed and brought to the police station [by people] accusing them of similar charges, but there was no evidence to prove their charges and police let off the Christians," Tirkey said.
"It is a well-orchestrated political plan to destabilize the government, which is generally seen as being supported by Christians."
The attackers chose villages where Christians are a tiny minority, Tirkey said.
Among the 33 million people in Jharkhand, Christians make up some 1.5 million, most of whom are indigenous people or those belonging to socially poor Dalit communities, the former untouchables.
The state's 4.5 percent Christian population is almost double that of the national average of 2.3 percent.