Hindu group says proselytisers can expect attacks

BOMBAY - A militant Hindu group said on Friday recent attacks on Christian clerics and institutions in India were a reaction to conversions of Hindus, and warned that there would be more.

Police blamed two groups, including the Bajrang Dal, an organisation affiliated to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), for an attack on a Catholic priest near Bombay earlier this week.

"Conversions are the root cause of violence," Milind Parande, National Co-Convener of Bajrang Dal, told reporters on Friday.

"If this continues there will be violence... they should expect it," he said, adding that the Bajrang Dal was not itself responsible for Monday's attack.

On the same day in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, a nun survived after being shot at point-blank range.

Christians, who account for just 2.3 percent of India's mainly-Hindu population of one billion, and Hindu revivalist groups have been at odds over the question of conversions in recent years.

Tension reached a peak in late 1998-early 1999 when prayer halls were torched in the BJP-ruled western state of Gujarat and an Australian missionary and his two young sons were burnt to death in their car in the eastern state of Orissa.

"The federal and state government should immediately stop conversions. The Hindu society will not take this lying down," Parande said.

Cardinal Ivan Dias, the Catholic Archbishop of Bombay, condemned the attack on the priest as "senseless and barbaric" and asked all Catholic Schools in the city's archdiocese to close on Monday as a mark of protest.

In a statement the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India quoted its secretary general, Archbishop Oswald Gracias of Agra, as saying the latest incidents were cause for serious concern.

"I was beginning to think that attacks on Christians were becoming a thing of the past, but these attacks on the same day in two different states have sent distressing signals to the Christian community in the country," he said.

08:10 08-10-01

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