A group of Hindu radicals in India's Chhattisgarh state reportedly attacked and beat 60 Christians worshiping at a Pentecostal church on Sunday, only a week after the Indian government denied visas to a U.S. Commission investigating religious freedom abuses in the country.
International Christian Concern reported that a mob of 25 Hindu radicals targeted a Pentecostal church in Kachana colony, where they stormed the house of worship on motorbikes, and began beating the 60 or so Christians that had gathered for Sunday worship.
Witnesses said that the radicals also beat and stripped Christian women, and destroyed various church property, including Bibles.
Although seven of the alleged attackers were arrested by police, local activists claimed that an 'atmosphere of impunity' allows such incidents of violence against Christians to occur throughout the country.
The radicals have attempted to justify the attack by claiming it was against forced conversions to Christianity, an accusation often aimed at the comparatively small but rising Christian population in the country.
John Dayal, spokesman for the United Christian Forum, told ICC: "The vandalizing of the church [in Chhattisgarh] comes as the entire nation of India is debating the role of [radical Hindu nationalism] and the government in exacerbating an environment of hate and intolerance against civil society, the intelligentsia, and, above all, religious minorities such as Muslims and Christians."
News of the latest church attack comes only a week after the Indian government failed to issue visas in time to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which has long planned a discussion on religious freedom conditions in the country.
"We are deeply disappointed by the Indian government's denial, in effect, of these visas. As a pluralistic, non-sectarian, and democratic state, and a close partner of the United States, India should have the confidence to allow our visit," said Robert P. George, chairman of USCIRF.
"USCIRF has been able to travel to many countries, including those that are among the worst offenders of religious freedom, including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, China, and Burma. One would expect that the Indian government would allow for more transparency than have these nations, and would welcome the opportunity to convey its views directly to USCIRF," he added.
Christian communities have been trying to stand up for their rights in the Hindu-majority country, with dalit Christians, members of the lower caste "untouchables," planning a nationwide rally for equal rights.
One major piece of legislation they are protesting against is a Caste Order that only allows dalits who still identify with their Hindu background to receive important government benefits, which takes away help from millions of Christian dalits.
ICC noted that the latest church attack is another sign of growing religious intolerance in India.
"Hindu radicals, who continue to go unchecked by the government, are dividing India along religious lines and labeling religious minorities, including Christians, as inferior and anti-India. India's government must do more to secure the constitutional rights of all of its citizens, including Christians, and to punish those who actively violate these rights," said ICC's Regional Manager for South Asia, William Stark.
"Unless this is done soon, India risks forever losing its reputation as a pluralistic and tolerant democracy," he added.