NEW DELHI (AFP) - Some 200 men armed with rods and sticks stormed a church in northern India during Sunday prayer service, police said, in the latest anti-Christian violence in the officially secular country.
At least five people were injured in the attack allegedly carried out by members of hardline Hindu vigilante groups in Uttarakhand state, according to a complaint by the church authorities.
The frenzied mob destroyed furniture, photographs and musical instruments while shouting slogans hailing the Hindu God Ram, they said.
"We have been conducting raids since last night to nab the leader of the mob. Investigation is on to identify the remaining 150-200 people involved in the incident," local police official Vivek Kumar told AFP.
Ms Priyo Sadhna Porter, pastor of the church in Roorkee city, said she could identify most of the attackers as they belonged to Bajrang Dal, a Hindu vigilante group, and other similar outfits.
"We demand strict action against them," she told the Times of India newspaper.
Since the beginning of the year there have been similar attacks on Christian churches, mainly in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh - two Indian states with large populations of marginalised, low-caste tribal communities.
Hindu groups accuse pastors and activists of converting tens of thousands of tribal people by offering cash and other incentives, a charge denied by the Christian community.
Christians instead say the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has failed to protect the minorities.
Hindus comprise nearly 80 per cent of India's 1.3 billion population and critics say Modi's two huge election wins since 2014 have empowered his hardcore followers.
Last month, bishops urged the Indian president to intervene to stop anti-Christian violence across the country.
In its 2021 report, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom said Hindu nationalist policies promoted by the Indian government were resulting in systematic and "egregious violations of religious freedom".
The Indian government rejected its observations, calling them biased and unfounded.