By Jose Kavi
New Delhi: The Government Railway Police (GRP) in Madhya Pradesh have registered a case of abduction against a Catholic nun who had accompanied four tribal girls in the central Indian state.
The nun was booked on the basis of a statement from the father of a minor girl, GRP station head officer in Satna S R Bagri told Matters India on June 16, a day after the nun was released from police custody.
Bagri said the case would be transferred to police in Jharkhand, the girls’ native state in eastern India, for further probe.
On June 13, GRP personnel had forced Sister Beena Joseph and the girls out of Kshipra Express at Satna after rightwing Hindu groups alleged the nun was engaged in religious conversion. The group was going to Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh capital, to attend a program.
Sister Joseph belongs to the Carmelite Sisters of St Teresa, a Kerala-based congregation. She and the girls were kept in the police station for 12 hours for interrogation and let them go only at 12 midnight.
However, one of the girls said to be minor was not allowed to go with the nun and other girls. Instead, the police sent her to Child Line and informed her parents who came took her back home on June 14.
The GRP, according to Bagri, booked the nun with abduction charge after the “minor” girls’ parents stated that the nun was supposed to take her to Chennai, capital of Tamil Nadu state in southern India. Instead, she was taken to Bhopal.
The police officer, however, maintains that Jharkhand police will probe the case where the alleged offence had taken place.
Meanwhile, the nun denied the allegations saying, “The girl was not a minor, instead an erroneous entry in her Aadhar card led to the confusion.” The girl was taken after obtaining permission from her parents, says the traumatized nun.
Meanwhile Christian groups have condemned the incident.
“The nun is a victim to a larger conspiracy to malign the Christian community,” Christy Abraham, national general secretary of Rashtriya Isai Mahasangh (grand assembly of nationalist Christians), told Matters India.
“The Christian community,” he continued, “has been constantly under attack from right wing Hindu groups and trying to create hurdle in our prayers, travel, work and even on food.”
Such tactics, he told Matters India, are “definitely a matter of serious concern for the community and will chalk out means and strategies to counter such malicious campaigns.”
Earlier on June 14, a Christian delegation led by Father Maria Stephen, public relations officer of Bhopal archdiocese, met G P Singh, a top railway official in Madhay Pradesh, to apprise him of recent anti-Christian incidents in the state.
A press statement said Christians in the state are “very much concerned over” the harassment of missionaries during travel. “Like any other citizens of the country, the Christians have also right to travel for the sake of study, job and other religious purposes. Whenever the Christians travel in a group with their leaders they are subject to allegations that, they are going for religious conversion,” the statement added.
The Satna case was the third incident in less than one month in Madhya Pradesh, a state ruled by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party.
On May 21, police detained 60 tribal children from Jhabua district in Madhya Pradesh going to Nagpur for a summer camp at Ratlam railway station following a fake complaint of religious conversion from right wing activists and registered a case against nine Christians who accompanied them. They were released later after their parents denied the allegation.
A day later, local police stopped 11 tribal children from Alirajpur district who were also on their way to the Nagpur camp and arrested two persons guiding them.
The two were later sent to jail, after a case was registered under relevant sections of MP Freedom of Religion Act and Indian Penal Code.
Father Stephen says such incidents tarnish the image of Christians in society. “Now the situation has come that, if anyone sees any Christians going in a group or participating in a religious events, they are branded, fabricated and accused of conversion,” the priest bemoaned.