The Missionaries of Charity, a religious congregation founded by St. Teresa of Calcutta, have come under fire from the Indian government. The state of Gujarat has leveled conversion charges against a nun-run shelter home for girls. A spokesperson for the religious community has claimed that the charges are “not true,” and has suggested that this is an attack on the minority Christian community of India.
According to The Indian Express, the charges fall under the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act of 2003. The sisters are said to have broken the law by “hurting Hindu religious sentiments” and “luring towards Christianity young girls.”
UCA News reports that the investigation began after a social defense officer saw children praying during a routine visit to the shelter home. Soon after, allegations arose that the nuns were forcing the girls to wear crosses and kept the Bible in a store room frequented by the girls.
Sister Emmaculate, a nun who works at the facility that houses 48 girls, described a circus of government officials and media members descending upon the grounds:
“A team of police officials accompanied by media personnel visited the orphanage on Dec. 13 afternoon and interrogated the nuns and others for at least one-and-a-half hours.” She asked, “What wrong did we do?”
The police and media were directly followed by another team of six people, one of whom claimed to be with the child welfare committee. This second group arrived at 7:00 p.m. and did not leave for four hours. Sister Emmaculate said every inch of the ground was searched and information about their daily activities was collected.
Church officials have decried the accusations and have vowed to challenge the charges in court. Father Cedric Prakash, a Jesuit priest and rights activist based in Gujarat, told UCA News that this is a “fabricated case.” He said:
“Keeping a copy of the Holy Bible or any other religious text is not illegal and charging somebody for it is against the laid-down principles of the Indian constitution.” He added that this appears to be “a deliberate attempt to denigrate Christians and an institution founded by Saint Mother Teresa that commands great respect across the world.”
UCA notes that this is the third instance of such charges being brought against a Christian religious organization in the last month. One case claims that an orphanage in the Sagar Diocese was distributing beef and teaching from the Bible, both of which are banned in the province.