By BosNewsLife Asia Service
NEW DELHI, INDIA (BosNewsLife)-- Four young students at an evangelical missionary school in eastern India are recovering from their injuries after they were gang-raped in what locals called "another chilling reminder" of how unsafe the area has become for schoolgirls and minority Christians, BosNewsLife learned Tuesday, July 23.
The girls, between the ages of 12 and 14, were abducted and raped after some 25 masked men carrying knives broke into the residential school of the Evangelical Church of India in Labda village in India's eastern state of Jharkhand, church sources confirmed.
The victims, whose names were not immediately revealed, were rushed to hospital following the July 14 incident, reported Catholic news agency Fides.
They were reportedly among some 135 students enrolled on a vocational course at the Christian school, 60 of whom are minors. Most of them, including the girls, come from impoverished tribal families or other marginalized groups in India's predominantly Hindu
Indian media said the school does not have a security system in place and its isolated, hilly position, made it an easy target for the intrusion.
The attackers reportedly tied up and gagged four teachers who were on the school grounds at the time before abducting the four girls of the Pahariya tribal group. They were then taken away and raped for two hours and released at 1 am local time on July 15, Christians said.
The girls were sent to the regional Pakur Sadar hospital for medical examination where doctors described their condition as "serious but stable".
In a statement local police said no efforts would be spared to detain suspects. “It is a gruesome crime. Raids are on to nab the culprits,” said regional superintendent of police Y.S. Ramesh in published remarks. It is the first major crime case for Ramesh who took over as superintendent of Jharkhand's Pakur District police after his predecessor Amarjit Balihar was killed this month by suspected Maoist rebels.
The violence comes shortly after two other 13-year-old girls, both students and daughters of policemen, were found dead in May in a pond in the city of Jasidih following a reported gang-rape attack.
“The main problem is impunity. The preferred victims are girls from tribal, [the low Hindu caste] Dalit or [other] marginalized communities," said Faustine Lobo, Director of India’s Pontifical Mission Society in a statement distributed by Fides. "These groups are vulnerable, weak, they have very little social and political influence and are often defenseless,” the priest added.
Christianity has been spreading among impoverished tribal groups, missionary groups say.
The reported gang rape came as another setback for the Evangelical Church of India, which has congregations in at least ten Indian states and provides education and other social aid to impoverished groups, amid opposition from Hindu hardliners and other groups.
Priest Lobo linked the phenomenon of rape and other attacks to a corrupt and “inefficient legal and political system.” “Current laws would be useful in preventing and punishing such crimes if they were actually applied, but they are not. This is mainly because of the corruption that exists among police officers or administration officials who cover up these cases," he claimed.
"It is a despicable crime which demeans women’s dignity which we, as Christians, have always upheld," the priest said.
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is 'Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals' since 2004).
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