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Jaipur, a jewel in the desert sands of India's Rajasthan state, has always attracted attention as a tourist's delight. But the city made news for a darker reason in late April, when television cameras recorded an assault on Christian pastor Walter Masih.

Police promptly rounded up five suspected Hindu activists for the unprovoked attack. But they also began to investigate the role of the television cameramen, suggesting that the video may have been made to intimidate. The widely broadcasted incident sparked a nationwide protest by Christians, who number 23 million in India. Hundreds of Christians sat in protest close to the Indian Parliament building the day after the attack. Masih himself traveled a few hundred miles to take part in a protest rally against such attacks in Bangalore. A late May protest in New Delhi attracted about 4,000 demonstrators.

Joseph D'Souza, president of the Dalit Freedom Network, alleged that Hindu nationalists have coordinated and videotaped an escalating number of attacks on Christians, including many lower-caste Dalits. Other observers said expanding political and economic opportunities for Dalits provoke some Hindus.

"Even as the marginalized and the low-caste people have carved a niche for themselves, attacks on them have only increased to browbeat them into silence," said social affairs analyst Augustine Kaunds.

India's Christians, most of whom come from a Dalit background, are easy targets because they rarely respond in kind. Many still recall the words of forgiveness offered by Australian missionary Gladys Staines after a Hindu mob murdered her husband, Graham, and children in 1999.

"You don't hear of a communal riot when Christians are attacked," Kaunds said.

Upcoming political events could ...

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