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Concern grows as Mother Teresa nun remains in Indian jail

Political influence and sectarian hate suspected over repeated refusal of bail for 62-year-old sister

ucanews.com reporter, New Delhi 

ucanews.com reporter, New Delhi 

Updated: July 19, 2019 03:12 AM GMT
Concern grows as Mother Teresa nun remains in Indian jail

A Missionaries of Charity nun receives a National Commission for Protection of Child Rights delegation that visited a home run by the congregation in Ranchi on July 24, 2018, as part of a probe following allegations of child trafficking. (IANS photo)

Church activists suspect political interference and sectarian hate in the continued incarceration of a Missionaries of Charity nun who was arrested a year ago accused of child trafficking in eastern India’s Jharkhand state.

Sister Concelia Baxla filed a fresh bail application in the state’s High Court on July 12. Her bail was rejected by several courts including India’s Supreme Court early this year.

The nun, now 62 and a diabetic, was arrested on July 4 last year along with Anima Indwar, a staff member of the home for unwed mothers that the Missionaries Charity managed in state capital Ranchi.

The arrest followed a complaint that Indwar took money to provide a baby but failed to keep the promise. They were accused of having already sold three babies from the home.

The Supreme Court rejected her bail application on Jan. 29 on grounds that police had not yet completed the investigation of the case.

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The nun was initially remanded for 14 days and was expected to get bail on July 20 last year, but was denied by the district court. Later, the state court denied her bail on Oct. 30 before the top court’s denial early this year.

“I feel there is some strong element of political pressure in the case. Otherwise, the court has always granted bail in such cases,” said A.C. Michael, a Christian leader and former member of the Delhi Minorities Commission.

Michael said police in the state, run by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have already completed the investigation and charges are filed in the court.

“One wonders what stops the court from granting bail,” said Michael, adding that church people expect the nun to get bail when the fresh bail application is heard this month.

However, Jenis Francis, a Christian activist and lawyer, suggested sectarian hate was keeping the nun in the jail. “A person is innocent until proven guilty. Why the nun continues to languish in person is beyond one’s reach of reason,” Jenis said.

The police delay in filing the charges for more than six months was a reflection of how the state and its law enforcement agencies worked in tandem to fulfill the agenda of Hindu groups, the lawyer-activist said.

“The prejudice against Mother Teresa is deeply rooted in the minds of Hindu fanatics. The name of Mother Teresa is deliberately being dragged into the case to defame her name and the work of her nuns among the poor,” Jenis told ucaews.com.

St. Teresa of Kolkata, popularly known as Mother Teresa, founded the Missionaries of Charity in 1950 to work among the poorest people in the slums of Kolkata city. It grew to become a global organization with about 5,000 members working in 139 countries. It has 244 homes in India.

However, right-wing Hindu groups have opposed the work of Mother Teresa and her nuns, accusing them of working to convert poor Hindus to Christianity in the guise of social service.

For example, Yogi Adityanath, a BJP leader and chief minister of India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, has in a public speech said that the saintly nun was part of a conspiracy to Christianize India.

“The witch-hunting of Mother Teresa sisters” could be a way of gaining global attention, according to Joseph Dias, a Christian leader based in Mumbai.

“On the one hand, Christians are targeted with impunity and on the other hand, in order to gain world attention, nuns of Mother Teresa are targeted,” said Joseph.

Those accused of terrorism and bomb explosions are out on bail and sit inside parliament, but “an innocent nun is jailed based on an allegation.”

Joseph was referring to Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, who won recent parliamentary polls on the BJP’s ticket. She is accused of terrorist activities linked to a deadly bomb blast targeting Muslims in 2008. She is currently free on bail.

Adil Ahmad, a social and rights activist based in New Delhi, said the norm is for courts to grant bail. “However, in this case, Sister Concelia is treated exceptionally because of her Catholic faith. She is guilty for the establishment until proven innocent; while for others it is the other way around,” Ahmed said.

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