tudents of a fashion design school hold placards during a protest against the rapists convicted in the Dec. 16, 2012 gang rape in a moving bus in New Delhi, in Bangalore, India, Friday, March 13, 2015. (Photo:AP)
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 assault on the 71-year-old is the latest in a string of high-profile rapes in India and comes after a spate of attacks on churches that prompted Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi to promise a crackdown on religious violence.
The nun was attacked late Friday after a gang of 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.
Five others have been detained for questioning, but a breakthrough has proved elusive so far.
Arnab Ghosh, a police superintendent who visited the convent near the town of Ranaghat, 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 (1810 GMT) 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 in churches in West Bengal for the nun, who is recuperating at a hospital in Ranaghat, some 70 kilometres (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.
"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."
Christian leaders in state capital Kolkata said they were planning to hold a candlelight vigil on Monday followed by a solidarity rally in support of the victim.
"We are shocked that a thing like this has happened in our state. We want the culprits to be arrested and brought to justice swiftly," Father Saroj Biswas told the NDTV news network.
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.
The gang-rape has added to the sense of fear and dismay among the country's Christian minority, which has been deeply upset by recent attacks on churches.
Modi had been heavily criticised for not speaking out earlier against religious violence and has also faced flak for remaining silent about a 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 in India, which last week banned a documentary about a December 2012 gang-rape that 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 many campaigners say little has changed for women on the ground.