Police probe Catholic-run orphanage in central India

Church leaders say allegations are part of a malicious campaign to defame Christians and seize orphanage land

UCA News reporter, Bhopal

Updated: December 13, 2021 07:28 AM GMT

St. Francis Orphanage in Shampura in Sagar district of Madyha Pradesh. (Photo: YouTube)

A police probe has been initiated into a Catholic-run orphanage in Sagar Diocese in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh following allegations that its inmates were given beef and taught the Bible, among other charges.

Church leaders denied the charges and said they were part of a well-orchestrated malicious campaign to defame the Church, especially by those who have an eye on the orphanage's land.

This is the third such incident targeting a Catholic-run institution in the diocese within a month.

A joint team of police and district Child Welfare Committee (CWC) members visited St. Francis Orphanage in Shampura in Sagar district on Dec. 6 following a complaint that the orphanage authorities had supplied beef to the inmates and tried to teach the Bible, among other charges.

The team interacted with students and took statements of five boys and five girls and also those of officials, orphanage director Father Sinto Varghese told UCA News on Dec. 9.

The following day another team of CWC members, mostly women, visited the orphanage and took statements from all the girls.

This is part of an ongoing campaign against Christians to discredit their work among the poor and the downtrodden

The orphanage is home to 44 children — 21 girls and 23 boys — aged up to 19.

Local police, judges and CWC members regularly visit it and inspect its running as per the government guidelines and we do not know suddenly where the cow meat and other charges came from, Father Varghese said.

Where will we get cow meat? asked the priest as cow slaughter and consumption of beef are prohibited in the state.

We provide chicken as per the government food menu and those who don't eat meat are given vegetables and other stuff they require.  

CWC president Chandra Prakash Shukla told UCA News on Dec. 9 that the allegations were being investigated, hinting that the probe team had not come across any evidence to substantiate the claims.

Police refused to divulge any details about the investigation. However, sources said prima facie the allegations have been found to be false, but a deeper probe is being carried out to avoid further pressure from certain interest groups.

The police also summoned the orphanage's director and other staff including the cook for interrogation.

This is part of an ongoing campaign against Christians to discredit their work among the poor and the downtrodden, Bishop James Athikalam of Sagar told UCA News on Dec. 9.

The diocese carries out several welfare programs among the poor, especially educating poor children and providing them with hostels and other facilities.

When they get educated, they begin to oppose atrocities, exploitation and other social evils and therefore some vested interest groups opposed to their growth are targeting our institutions with false complaints.

The prelate said a man named Omkar Singh had made more than 15 complaints against Catholic institutions and all were found to be false after investigation.

But such complaints are released to the media and get highlighted as if Christians are carrying out illegal activities.

Unfortunately, when the truth is found out after the probe, the media rarely covers it to dispel the negative impression it had given against Christians and their institutions, said Bishop Athikalam.

This is the reality in which we are living but we are not going to bow down. Instead we will continue our work as long as possible as problems and difficulties are part of Christian life.

None of these incidents are spontaneous but are well planned and executed to target us and defame us

The orphanage is part of a 277-acre land plot the Church received from former British rulers and now some vested interests have set an eye on it after the government refused to renew its lease.

The lease issue is now pending in Madhya Pradesh High Court. Church leaders suspect these false charges against church-run institutions on the same land could be used as evidence to get a favorable order from the top court.

On Nov. 8, CWC chairperson Priyank Kanoongo led a team of officials on a surprise inspection of a Catholic-run girls' hostel in Intkheri village in Raisen district in the diocese.

The team, consisting solely of men, entered the girls' dormitory and searched their belongings and charged the hostel authorities with promoting Christianity after finding a couple of copies of the Bible.

The Bibles belonged to five Christian students. The search was carried out when the students were in school and the team did not even bother to take statements from them to verify if they were made to learn the Bible or attempted to convert them.

However, the panel chairman released a video of the inspection on social media and tried to create the impression that the nuns were trying to convert the students.

In another incident on Dec. 6, a Hindu mob vandalized St. Joseph School in Gang Basoda, also in Sagar Diocese, on the false allegation that eight students were converted.

The school management had on Dec. 5 informed the police and sought protection for the school after a right-wing Hindu group publicly called for a protest in the school.

None of these incidents are spontaneous but are well planned and executed to target us and defame us, said Bishop Athikalam.

Christians make up less than one percent of the 71 million population in Madhya Pradesh.

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