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Christian representatives have accused India's nationalist government of not doing enough to tackle religious violence, after a church in the popular tourist city of Agra became the latest target in a series of violent attacks blamed on Hindu extremists.
Unknown assailants vandalised St Mary's Church, which lies a few kilometres away from the iconic Taj Mahal mausoleum in Uttar Pradesh, beheading an effigy of the infant Jesus and tying a dog chain around the neck of a Mother Mary statue.
The parish priest's car, parked in the courtyard, had its windows smashed in the night attack.
Father Santosh, secretary to the archbishop of Agra, told IBTimes UK Christians and other religious minorities felt threatened. He said security for them had seriously deteriorated since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi came into power last year.
Santosh accused the Hindu nationalist PM of turning a blind eye to the increasingly brazen actions undertaken by extremist movements allied to his party.
"Fringe elements are thriving because the Prime Minister doesn't utter a word against them," Santosh said. "They need to speak up. We didn't have this [situation] with the previous government."
Modi is no stranger to this type of allegation. In 2002 when he chief minister of Gujarat State he became an international pariah, banned from the US and ostracised by Britain, over accusations he failed to halt religious violence that killed more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims.
The desecration of the almost 100-year-old St Mary's Church comes a month after a Christian convent school near Calcutta was ransacked and a septuagenarian nun living in the adjacent convent raped.
The incident sparked an international outcry and was condemned by Modi, but was also the occasion for inflammatory comments by other Hindu nationalist leaders loosely affiliated to the BJP.
Surendra Jain, the general secretary of the right-wing Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), also known as World Hindu Council, claimed the nun's rape was the result of a "Christian culture" of sexual exploitation.
Jain also justified the mob destruction of a church construction site in the state of Haryana as the natural reaction of local residents who feared they would be targeted by priests for conversion.
Groups like the VHP, which belongs to the same Hindu nationalist group umbrella group of Modi's BJP, argue that all Indians are Hindus by birth and those who have embraced Christianity or Islam should revert to their ancestral religion.
Such rhetoric has grown exponentially in recent months, accompanied by allegations that Muslims and Christians have in some instances been forced or cheated into attending mass re-conversion ceremonies.
Most of the so-called battle for souls is centred on the Dalits -- previously known as untouchables. For them, in fact, religion change represents an opportunity to escape the stigma attached to their low status in the rigid Hindu caste system.
After the desecration of St Mary's Church, the archdiocese of Agra said the situation was becoming unbearable, urging authorities to take action.
"Christian institutions are deemed sitting ducks by these fringe elements and deliberately targeted by them to further their vested interest," a statement from the Archdiocese said."This has spread fear among Christians and we feel very unsafe in our own motherland.
"We, the Christian fraternity, humbly request the authorities look into the matter seriously, nab the culprits and take punitive actions against them according to the law of the land so that such incidents are not repeated in the future and the Christians can live in peace," it concluded.
Police said they were investigating the incident, although Santosh said that after more than 24 hours they have not been informed of any development.
Almost 80% of India's 1.2 billion people are Hindus. Muslims make up more than 14% of the population, with Christians (2.5%), Buddhists (0.8%), Sikhs (1.9%) and other minorities dividing the remaining share.