KOLKATA, INDIA — Police arrested two suspects Thursday in the gang rape of an elderly nun in a Catholic missionary school this month in a crime that focused attention on the scourge of sexual violence in India despite tough anti-rape laws introduced two years ago.
The suspects were arrested after a nationwide hunt, one of them was found hiding in the western city of Mumbai and the second from West Bengal state, said a police officer said who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to talk to reporters.
The nun, in her 70s, was hospitalized in serious condition. She has since recovered and left the hospital.
Christian leaders say a series of attacks on churches since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right-wing Hindu government came to power in May have created a sense of fear in the community. Christians comprise 2 percent of India’s more than 1.2 billion people.
Police also are looking for other suspects who attacked the Convent of Jesus and Mary School in eastern India’s West Bengal state on March 14, ransacked the chapel, destroyed religious items and stole cash.
The attackers tied the school’s security guards with ropes and entered the nuns’ room, where the women were sleeping. They took the elderly nun to another room when she tried to block their way and then raped her, police said.
One of the suspects, Mohammad Salim Shaikh, denied the rape charge, but acknowledged that he was part of the gang which attacked the school in Nadia district, 80 kilometers (50 miles) northeast of the West Bengal state capital of Kolkata, the officer said Thursday.
India has a long history of tolerance for sexual violence, but the December 2012 fatal gang rape of a 23-year-old woman aboard a moving bus in New Delhi caused outrage across the nation.
The outcry led the federal government to rush legislation doubling prison terms for rapists to 20 years and criminalizing voyeurism, stalking and the trafficking of women. The law also makes it a crime for officers to refuse to open cases when complaints are made.