NEW DELHI, December 30 (Compass) - Hindu extremists launched two attacks on Catholics in the northern state of Rajasthan during the week before Christmas, in one case beating four people until they were unconscious.
On Saturday (December 24), nine members of the Hindu extremist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) attacked four Catholics, including a priest, in Jambuda, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the district capital of Banswara. Jaisingh Baria, Sunil Minama, and two people identified only as Father Thomas and Santosh were traveling by jeep to attend a Christmas mass in a nearby village.
The attackers had parked their motorbikes just after a curve in the road in Tandi Moti village, waiting for the four to arrive, a parish priest told Compass. After forcing the jeep to stop, the attackers hit Fr. Thomas with an iron rod.
"Then they pulled the other three off the jeep and beat them," said the priest, who identified himself only as Father Alexander. "They also made them strip down to their underwear."
The victims lay unconscious on the road for four hours until a local Christian discovered them at 9:30 p.m.
Fr. Alexander had asked for police protection for the four after villagers warned Fr. Thomas not to attend the Christmas celebration that night.
"Now I'm wondering how the attackers learned of their travel plans," Fr. Alexander said.
RSS members had spread a rumor that the Catholics were carrying two children with them in the jeep in order to sacrifice them as part of their Christmas worship. As this rumor spread, people living in nearby villages came out to join in the beating.
Attackers also broke Fr. Thomas' mobile phone and stole his wallet containing 5,000 rupees ($115), along with a small television and VCD player that were in the jeep.
Fr. Thomas and the other victims have since identified five of the attackers - Kamlesh Tambolia, Rakesh Damor, Bharat Nutt, Harlala Roth and Galjee Khatara - all allegedly members of the RSS.
Inspector Prithvi Singh said he had asked Fr. Thomas to stop by the police station on his way to the mass, but the priest had not done so.
"Why did he go straight to Pattia-Parvali without coming to the police post as I had asked them to?" Singh said.
He added that he had filed charges against the attackers and arrested four of them, though they were released on bail.
In a separate incident on December 23, three men assaulted two nuns, Sister Tessia and Sister Kletty, who were waiting at a bus stop in Ambapara sub-district at around 9 p.m.
"The men came on a motorbike and slapped and verbally abused them," a priest from the Udaipur diocese told Compass. "They also snatched the crosses they were wearing around their necks."
One of the attackers was identified as Motilal Patel, already named in several violent attacks on Christians. Patel had earlier used a sharp weapon to attack three Catholic youths waiting at a bus stand in Banswara on October 21.
The Banswara city police registered a complaint against Patel and arrested him on October 22, but he applied for bail and was released immediately.
Police have yet to arrest Patel in connection with the attack on the two nuns.
Police believe Patel was also involved in the theft of a statue of the Virgin Mary from St. Andrew's Church in Ambapara on December 22.