The Indian government has ordered all the country’s states to inspect all the childcare homes run by Missionaries of Charity (MoC) nuns, the order founded by Mother Teresa.
But a senior Indian politician has accused Hindu nationalists of exploiting the news that four babies have been sold by one of the order’s homes, to “malign the name” of the order.
Mamata Bannerjee, chief minister of West Bengal state, in whose capital Kolkata the order has its headquarters, made her comments after the arrest of an MC sister and a member of staff at Nirmal Hriday, a home run by the order in Ranchi in Jharkhand state on 5 July.
Senior police officials on Sunday announced the last of four babies allegedly sold from the shelter home for unwed mothers had been found. The announcement came 12 days after the arrests of Anima Indwar and Sister Concilia on suspicion of child-trafficking, following a complaint to police by the Ranchi unit of the Child Welfare Committee. The superior of the MoC house was also detained by police, but was released after questioning the next day.
Bannerjee accused Hindu nationalist BJP politicians of using the actions of individuals to target the whole order, which she added was “high condemnable”.
When asked to comment on the allegations against the nuns, she said: “If any individual committed some mistake you can take action, but you [BJP] cannot say Missionaries of Charity is bad,” the Times of India reported her as saying.
Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary-general of the Catholic bishops’ conference of India, told World Watch Monitor that Sr Concilia had been forced to sign on a blank [sheet of] paper, and “the Church has not [been] so far provided the charges against her”.
Bishop Mascarenhas noted that The Republic, a major news channel sympathetic to the BJP, alleged that the number of babies sold could be as many as 280, because that was the number of infants for whom the order could not provide birth certificates, and branded the sisters a “multi-million corporation”. However three days later, on Saturday, the channel abandoned its speculation and reported instead “three babies sold”.
Meanwhile, the Church has voiced concern that a video clip in which Concilia apparently confesses to selling two babies, was made under duress. Although Jharkand police have denied leaking it to the media, the clip has gone viral
The RSS, a Hindu nationalist youth wing, asked the Indian government on 12 July to revoke the prestigious “Bharat Ratna” (Jewel of India) –India’s highest honour – which was conferred on Mother Teresa in 1980. Known as “saint of the gutters” she was awarded it a year after she was honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize for her service to the poorest of the poor. Canonised in 2016, she is now revered by Catholics as St Teresa of Kolkata.
Asked for a response to the RSS’s suggestion, Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, replied: “What has this to do with Mother Teresa and the Bharat Ratna?”
After the arrests earlier this month, the order issued a statement which said: “We are shocked at such news, which totally goes against the value and ethics espoused by the Missionaries of Charity, the nuns and its founder. The MoC is looking into the allegations against the accused employees in Jharkhand with all seriousness.” (insert pic)
Bishop Mascarenhas, a former auxiliary bishop in Ranchi, added: “There has been a lapse at the MoC home. It should have never happened. The MoCs have admitted it.”
Nonetheless the head of the police in BJP-ruled Jharkhand has written to the federal home secretary Rajiv Gauba calling for the order’s bank accounts to be frozen, UCAN reported on Friday.
D.K. Pandey called for the accounts to be frozen in order to apparently make it easier for officials to investigate suspected irregularities regarding foreign donations.
The bishop, speaking on his return from a fact-finding mission to Ranchi, said the intervention by the RSS revealed a “conspiracy behind blowing up the isolated case in the MoC home to discredit the MoCs and Christians.” He added that the reaction to the scandal “cannot be seen in isolation from the several incidents in which the BJP government has been hostile to the Christian community”.
Last month, the abduction and gang rape of five women due to perform a play to a Catholic secondary school in central Jharkhand led to the arrest of “an innocent Jesuit school principal” rather than the man who apparently co-ordinated the attack, he said. Fr. Alphonse Aind is behind bars, accused of abetting the attackers, whom he failed to stop, but none of the perpetrators have been arrested.
The bishop also recalled that in August 2017, the state government in Jharkhand had carried a “vicious advertisement” against the Church in the local daily newspapers before passing an anti-conversion law.