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 Wednesday, 15 January, 2003, 09:09 GMT
US missionary attacked in India
Missionary Joseph Cooper in hospital
Mr Cooper sustained a deep cut to his hand
An American missionary has been attacked in southern India by right-wing Hindus allegedly belonging to a group close to the ruling party.

The gang attacked Cooper and others with swords, sticks and iron bars

Police spokesman
Joseph W Cooper, 68, who is from Pennsylvania, received knife wounds in the assault in Kerala state in which five others were also hurt.

Police say they have arrested five activists of the hardline Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

But local RSS leaders deny the movement had anything to do with the attack.

The RSS is a group with close ties to the Hindu Nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party that heads the federal coalition government.

Christian groups have condemned the attack, which took place on the outskirts of the state capital, Trivandrum, on Monday night.

Armed gang

Eyewitnesses say Mr Cooper, a visiting preacher, was surrounded by an armed gang of 10 people as he was returning from a prayer meeting.

"We were approaching our car when the unexpected attack took place," Pastor Benson Sam told the BBC.

A police spokesman said Mr Cooper had sustained a deep cut in his right palm.

Christian demonstration in India
Christians in India feel under threat
"The gang attacked Cooper and others with swords, sticks and iron bars.

"As other church members rushed to the scene the attackers fled," he was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.

A local pastor, his wife and two children and one other person were also injured.

The victims were all taken to a local hospital but eyewitnesses said this was delayed by an hour until the police arrived on the scene.

Mr Cooper was attending a Protestant convention in the area organised by a local church.

About one third of the population of Kerala is Christian and attacks of this kind are rare.

But local people told the BBC that in recent months some right-wing Hindu organisations had been protesting against religious minorities.

Attacks

In recent years, there has been an increase in violence against Christians in India, who make up about 2% of the population.

In 1999, an Australian missionary working in India and his two little sons were burned to death by a mob in the eastern state of Orissa.

That attack was blamed on hardline Hindu groups who accuse the missionaries of forcibly proselytising low-caste Hindus and tribal groups - a charge the Christian groups deny.

Last month, the southern state of Tamil Nadu passed a controversial new law banning religious conversion through coercion or material inducement.

Many Christian groups in the state protested against the move, which they argued was unconstitutional.

India is a secular state which permits freedom to practice any religion.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Jill McGivering
"Police have arrested five men in connection with the attack"
See also:

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30 Sep 99 | South Asia
14 Jan 03 | Country profiles
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