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Catholic nuns deny conversion claims in India

Teacher dismissed from Jharkhand school run by Apostolic Carmel sisters is motivated by revenge, says superior reporter, Bhopal reporter, Bhopal

Updated: December 13, 2018 08:01 AM GMT
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Catholic nuns deny conversion claims in India

Hindu devotees perform a ritual bath during the Durga Puja festival in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand on Oct. 16. Christians in Jharkhand have faced increased harassment from Hindu groups since 2014, church leaders say. (Photo by AFP)

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A court in India's Jharkhand state has ordered police to book four Catholic nuns on charges of attempting to convert a woman to Christianity, but the nuns' superior says the case is an act of revenge.

The district court in state capital Ranchi directed police to file charges against the principal and three other nuns associated with the city's Carmel School after teacher Nalini Nayak complained that she was dismissed for her refusal to become a Christian.

Officials of the Apostolic Carmel congregation, which runs the school, said Nayak's complaint came after she was terminated because of her misconduct despite repeated warnings.

The complaint to the court was "an act of revenge," Sister Doris D'Souza, regional superior of the congregation, told on Dec. 4. "It is a completely false case to harass us and tarnish the image of the 50-year-old school."

The nun said Nayak was dismissed following "a series of complaints from students and parents for misconduct such as corporal punishment and leveling derogatory remarks against students among other things."

In the last incident, Nayak allegedly slapped a 5-year-old tribal child and made derogatory remarks about her skin color. The child's parents lodged a complaint against her on July 26 and sought action.

Nayak was dismissed after an internal inquiry committee found that she had violated the norms of the school and state educational guidelines. 

School authorities received more than 20 complaints about the teacher from her students and their parents. Sister D'Souza said CCTV footage of several violations is available.

Nayak claimed she was terminated on Oct. 1 after five years of service for refusing to become a Christian.

Her counsel Avnish Rajan Mishra said police would also charge the nuns with "criminal conspiracy" and "intention of molestation."

Nayak's complaint said school principal Sister Delia and other three other nuns — Sisters M. Renisha, Teresita Mary and Mary Theresa — exerted pressure on her to attend church services and religious functions on the school campus.

"On Sept. 27, the principal called me to her chamber and threatened that I could be killed if I refused to convert to Christianity. On Oct. 1, I was terminated from service," the complainant said.

Sister D'Souza said that over the past 50 years "thousands of children have studied in our school but nobody ever made such a heinous allegation against us."

She said two of the nuns named in the complaint are aged over 80 and are not involved in school activities.

"We are not here to convert anyone, just to provide quality education," she said.

Christians in Jharkhand have faced increased violence and harassment from Hindu groups opposed to Christianity since the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in the state in 2014, church leaders say.

In 2017, the state enacted a law that made using allurement, force or fraud to convert a person a criminal offense. Christian leaders say their services in education and healthcare could easily be misconstrued as violations and punished with fines or jail terms of up to four years.

Such laws exist in seven Indian states but no Christian has yet been convicted for conversion.

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