Rights activist says the case highlights the unfairness of an elderly Jesuit priest repeatedly being denied bail
A video circulating on social media shows two nuns and two postulants facing questions from police officers at a railway station in Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh, on March 19. (Photo: screengrab)
A court in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh has granted bail to three Hindu activists accused of harassing two Catholic nuns and their students.
Railway police arrested student leader Ajay Shankar Tiwari, Anchal Arjaria, president of Rashtra Bhakt Sangathan, and Purgesh Amaria, secretary of Hindu Jagran Manch, on April 2 in connection with the incident.
They were granted bail on April 7 by Jhansi District Court and must attend another hearing on April 22.
Two nuns of the indigenous Sacred Heart Congregation and two postulants were forced to get off a train in Jhansi on March 19 after the nuns were accused of conducting religious conversion.
According to officials in Jhansi, they were detained after right-wing Hindu activists gave a written complaint that two women were being taken forcibly for religious conversion. Uttar Pradesh has a law that aims to curb religious conversions done by force and fraudulent means.
However, the nuns were allowed to continue their journey after an inquiry at the railway station established that there was no conversion involved. Police said there was no basis for the complaint and all four women took the next train to their destination in Odisha.
The decision to grant bail to the the three Hindu activists brought a mixed reaction from Catholic figures.
“We can’t see it as a setback for us as there is a provision of people getting bail according to the Indian constitution, but we should keep our good work and believe in the law of the land,” Archbishop Felix Machado of Vasai, secretary-general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, (CBCI) told UCA News.
“It may take some time but I believe that one day the accused will be brought under the law.
“Several states in India are going through election phases, so many political parties took this case very seriously. As citizens of India, we should always raise our voices against injustice.”
Catholic rights activist A.C. Michael told UCA News that bail is a right under the Indian penal code unless it is a non-bailable offense.
“We are aware that there are so many others who are entitled to bail but are still in jail for no valid reasons. I hope and pray that the judges who are repeatedly rejecting the bail application of Father Stan Swamy will learn from this decision,” he said.
“It is a known fact that Father Stan has undergone two hernia operations and is still suffering from intense pain and tremors in both hands due to Parkinson’s disease.
"It is the duty of the state to ensure that perpetrators of violence are tried properly under the law and punished if found guilty. The victims are entitled to justice. A strong message has to be sent out that no one has the right to disrupt anyone's practice of faith.”
Moreover, he said, the police should realize that their job is to defend the right of every citizen, not favor certain friendly groups.
"The courts are expected to do their job as mandated under the oath they have taken to serve," Michael added.
The incident has generated outrage in India, especially in the poll-bound southern state of Kerala, whose Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has demanded strict action.
Federal Home Minister Amit Shah told an election campaign rally in Kerala that “I want to assure the people of Kerala that the culprits behind this incident will be brought to justice at the earliest.”
However, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal on March 29 dismissed claims that the nuns were “attacked” and alleged that Vijayan was “making false statements” about the issue.
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