Prayers were said at churches across India Sunday for an elderly nun who was gang-raped at a convent in an attack that has intensified anger over sexual violence and fuelled fears among beleaguered Christians.
The attack on the 71-year-old comes just days after India banned a documentary about the 2012 gang-rape of a student in Delhi, and with Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi promising to crack down on religious violence and ensure freedom of worship for all faiths.
The nun was attacked late Friday after a gang of about half a dozen robbers broke into a convent school in eastern 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 100,000 rupees (around $1,500) is on offer for any leads on the suspects.
Arnab Ghosh, a police superintendent who visited the convent near the town of Ranaghat town, 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 at churches in West Bengal for the wellbeing of the nun, who is recuperating at a hospital in Ranaghat, some 70 kilometers (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. We will pray for her again this evening," 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."
In the western state of Goa, which has a sizeable Christian population, the attack was condemned during the morning mass while there were also prayers for the nun in the national capital New Delhi.
This closed circuit television image captured on March 14, 2015 at the Convent of Jesus and Mary in Ranaghat, 70 kilometers north of Kolkata, and released by West Bengal Police shows three suspects in the gang-rape of a 71-year-old nun at the convent. Photo: AFP / West Bengal Police
The gang-rape has added to the sense of fear and dismay among the country's Christian minority which has been deeply upset by a spate of attacks on churches, with Modi recently promising to crack down on religious violence.
The premier had been heavily criticized for not speaking out earlier against religious violence and has also faced flak for remaining silent about a recent spate of mass "re-conversions" of Christians and Muslims to Hinduism.
"Even if you call it 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 spokesman for the Delhi diocese, told AFP.
The incident also adds to a grim record of horrifying sexual assaults recently in India, which last week banned a documentary about a December 2012 gang-rape which sparked domestic and international outrage.
Authorities said screening the documentary could have caused public disorder, but critics accused the government of being more concerned with the country's reputation than the safety of its women.
The gang-rape of a young physiotherapy student highlighted the frightening level of violence against women in the world's second most populous country and triggered mass protests.
It led to a major reform of India's rape laws, speeding up trials and increasing penalties, although