Christian groups in India have crossed swords with an influential Hindu organization after one of its leaders allegedly sought to justify the rape of four nuns last week.
Church activists said on Wednesday they planned a protest rally in New Delhi on Oct. 3.But officials of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) - or World Hindu Council - said they were being wrongly maligned as a result of twisted media reports.
The VHP often clashes with Christian groups in a campaign against what it dubs conversion of Hindus through allurement.
"We don't want Hindus to be converted against their wishes. You can't allure them," VHP General Secretary Acharya Giriraj said.
The controversy erupted over the weekend after Baikunth Lal Sharma, a senior official of the VHP, reportedly described the rape as the consequence of Hindu anger over conversions.
But Giriraj said the VHP condemned the Sept. 23 incident, in which an unidentified gang looted some money and allegedly raped four Catholic nuns at a central Indian village in the remote Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh state.
"It was purely a criminal case of dacoity (robbery) and rape," Kishore said. "We totally condemn these things."
He said, however, that the VHP opposed conversions that resulted from incentives such as financial help, education and social work or as a result of inter-religious marriages.
Christian priests said the Jhabua incident was not isolated and referred to incidents, including attacks on missionaries in the western state of Gujarat.
"It (the rape) was not just one incident. There have been a series of incidents," said Bishop Vincent Concessao, the Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Delhi.
Concessao said Hindu fundamentalists were campaigning in a manner that resulted in security threats to Christian missionaries.
But a spokesman for Sharma, Acharya Ranjit, said Sharma only questioned attempts to link the rape with religious issues.
"It is this that we were angered by. We didn't take sides with the rapists," he said.