Isolation ends for Missionaries of Charity in Jharkhand

Indian state's new regime invites nuns to feed stranded migrants but police continue to probe baby-selling claims

UCA News reporter

Updated: April 09, 2020 09:49 AM GMT

Archbishop Felix Toppo of Ranchi prays on April 7 at the opening of a community kitchen to feed stranded people in the state capital of Jharkhand state. Missionaries of Charity nuns under investigation for allegedly selling babies are managing the kitchen at the invitation of the state government. (Photo supplied) 

Missionaries of Charity nuns accused of selling babies in India's Jharkhand state have joined hands with the state government to feed stranded migrant workers and the poor leprosy patients in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis.

Two years after their home for unwed mothers in state capital Ranchi was closed down, the nuns are now managing a government-supported community kitchen that feeds more than 600 poor and stranded migrant workers.

The mostly daily-wage migrants are stranded in hundreds of Indian cities like Ranchi without jobs and income after a 21-day lockdown was announced until April 15 to check the spread of coronavirus in the country.

Archbishop Felix Toppo of Ranchi opened the kitchen on April 7, aiming to run it for over a month as the government and church officials believe the lockdown or other restrictions on public activities will continue beyond April 15.

The kitchen also plans to serve food in Indira Nagar, an enclave of some 200 families of people formerly affected by leprosy. Since lockdown, they face starvation as they cannot get work outside and buy food.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's announcement to start the lockdown at midnight on March 24 gave people only four hours' notice, hitting millions of migrant workers who could not go back to their village homes.

The nuns have taken up the assignment after the government approached them. The archdiocese also supports the nuns' work for the poor and stranded migrant workers, said Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, auxiliary bishop of Ranchi.

It is like a joint venture kitchen between the state and the nuns. The government has agreed to provide rice and pulses, said Bishop Mascarenhas, former secretary-general of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India.

Rai Mahimapat Ray, the deputy commissioner of Ranchi who is monitoring relief work among migrant workers, promised to assist the nuns in taking care of the needy.

The Catholic Church has readied its 14 schools to accommodate stranded migrant workers following the request of the state. Two have already started functioning, Bishop Mascarenhas told UCA News.

He said the archdiocese is also collaborating with nuns in gathering vegetables and other food to serve nutritious meals to the poor.

The diocese plans to open another community kitchen to feed some 500 people, pooling funds and materials from Catholic charities.

Missionaries of Charity, founded by St. Mother Teresa of Kolkata, has 5,000 nuns in over 770 houses, 243 of them in India. They run homes for the destitute and dying besides shelter homes for unwed mothers and orphanages.

In Ranchi, they ran into rough weather when the state was under a government run by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In the state elections last December, a secular government led-by Jharkhand Mukti Morch (Jharkhand Liberation Party) unseated the BJP.

Hindu groups that support the BJP often project missionary work as a facade for religious conversion in their push to make India a Hindu-only nation. Christian leaders say the actions against the nuns were part of a plan to tarnish missionary work in the state.

State police on June 5, 2018, arrested Missionaries of Charity Sister Concilia Baxla, the superior of Nirmal Hriday (tender heart) home for unwed mothers in Ranchi. Police accused her of selling the baby of an unwed mother in connivance with one of her staff members, Anima Indwar.

The nun remained in jail for more than a year until Sept. 27 last year when she was released on bail. Nrimal Hriday remains sealed as police investigations continue.

Police slapped three such baby-selling cases against the nuns. Under the orders of the federal government, officials probed the childcare facilities of the congregation across the country but reportedly failed to find any violations.

The nuns in Ranchi continued their work with the poor. Now the state has a more friendly government under its new chief minister, Hemant Soren, a Catholic leader said.

Jharkhand has close to 1.5 million Christians, almost all tribal people, in a population of 32 million. Its 4.3 percent Christian population is nearly double that of the national figure.

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