Radical Hindu leader stomps on image of Pope Francis during protest calling for Christian-free India

A woman and her daughter walk past the Sacred Heart Cathedral Church in New Delhi, India May 22, 2018. | Reuters/Adnan Abidi

A radical Hindu leader has been seen in a viral video stomping on an image of Pope Francis while calling on Christians to leave India.

In a video that circulated on social media in late May, Hindu leader Om Swami Maharaj reportedly accused Christians of promoting terrorism in India.

Maharaj urged Christians to leave the country and threatened to use force to expel them if they do not leave voluntarily.

About 20 people were present when Maharaj delivered his speech near the Sacred Heart Cathedral in New Delhi.

After his speech, the Hindu leader reportedly laid out a banner that had an image of Francis and started stomping on it. The group was reportedly chanting "Pope Francis murdabad," meaning "down with Pope Francis" following Maharaj's speech.

Christian groups in central India have reportedly asked the police to stop the dissemination of the video.

Richard James, a spokesman for the ecumenical Christian group Rashtriya Isai Mahasangh, had confirmed that the police have been informed about the viral video.

"This kind of public display of hate toward any religious group or leader would not be allowed in a civilized society," told UCA News.

Jaideep Prasad, inspector general of Police in state capital Bhopal, vowed to take action about the video, saying he has already told officials to "do what is necessary to ensure peace."

Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary-general of the Indian Bishops' Conference, said he believes that the video does not represent the views of the majority of Hindus in India. "The video is an aberration and not expected," he remarked, as reported by UCA News.

He suggested that the dissemination of the video is linked to the pastoral letter issued by Delhi Archbishop Anil Couto, who called for a one-year prayer campaign ahead of the general elections, which will take place next year.

"We are witnessing a turbulent political atmosphere which poses a threat to the democratic principles enshrined in our Constitution and the secular fabric of our nation," Couto stated in the letter, according to Crux.

The letter was reportedly denounced as anti-national by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Leaders of the political party have alleged that the letter was part of a scheme to tarnish the nation's image as well as the BJP government under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In response to the allegation, Couto said: "In all churches and institutions we pray and fast. I'm not meddling in partisan politics. We're just praying that nation should walk in right direction."

The BJP has been accused of supporting radical groups that want to make India a Hindu-only nation. Attacks against Christians have risen since the party took power in 2014. A report by Persecution Relief has indicated that there were 736 attacks against Christians last year, more than double the cases reported in 2016.