Deep in India's Punjab state, the wailing of grieving women shatters the stillness in the pocket-sized village of Munan Khurd. Inside a dimly lit hut, a group of women, their heads covered with long white scarves as a sign of mourning, sit with grief-stricken faces.

They mourn for Mushtaq Masih, 35, a Dalit Christian. In mid-August, affluent Rajput Hindu youths in the north Indian state of Punjab apparently murdered Masih after his dog entered a small Hindu temple. The killers reportedly threw Masih's body into a canal. The police, on finding Masih's body and declaring it unclaimed, had it cremated.

In Munan Khurd, a nondescript village dominated by the upper caste Rajput, the life of Dalit Christians is little different from what it is elsewhere in caste-ridden India. Dalits, formerly known as India's untouchable caste, face widespread discrimination despite legal protections of their civil rights.

Protecting the suspects?

Masih's death has sent shock waves through the region's 30,000 Christians. A fact-finding team of the United Christian Forum for Human Rights (Punjab) visited the village and accused the local police of mishandling the investigation. Team members believe Masih was first kidnapped and murdered, and then his body dumped outside the village. The team is taking the case to national commissions on human rights and minorities.

On September 20, 2,000 Christians mounted a protest rally in Munan Khurd. The local police have initiated an inquiry, but many Christians believe that is a mere bid to buy time.

The tragic incident happened on the night of August 12 after the Masih family's dog entered a Hindu Temple, which shares a common wall with their dwelling. After seeing the animal lick oil from a temple lamp, one young ...

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