Indian police gather on July 4 outside the Nirmal Hriday home in Ranchi where a Missionaries of Charity nun and a staff member were arrested and accused of selling babies. (Photo by AFP)
The High Court in India's Jharkhand state has rejected the latest bail plea of a Missionaries of Charity nun accused of selling babies from a congregation-run home for unwed mothers.
Sister Concilia was arrested on July 4 at Nirmal Hriday (tender heart), the home she managed for unmarried mothers in the state capital Ranchi. She was initially remanded in custody for 14 days. She and her congregation have denied the illegal trading of babies.
Courts have since refused her bail several times, most recently on Oct. 30, on the grounds that the investigation of the case and a probe into the activities of her congregation could be hampered if she is released.
Sister Concilia was arrested along with a staff member following complaints that the staff member took money to give a baby to a childless couple but failed to keep her promise.
Jesuit Father Peter Martin, a lawyer who is providing legal help, told ucanews.com that the nun's congregation and church officials had expected bail to be granted by the High Court after a district court turned down her bail application on July 20.
He said the next option was to approach the Supreme Court. "We will make a call on this after studying the grounds for the court to deny bail," he said.
Police claim that Jharkhand state's Child Welfare Committee suspected that the home was involved in the illegal trading of children after a couple complained they were not given a child despite paying 120,000 rupees (US$1,850) as an adoption fee.
Police said they recovered 65,000 rupees from the arrested staff member that the couple allegedly paid to get a baby from the home run by Missionaries of Charity, a congregation founded by St. Teresa of Kolkata, commonly known as Mother Teresa.
Sister Mary Prema Pierick, who heads the congregation, has denied the allegation.
"We are fully cooperating with the investigation and are open to any free, fair and just inquiry," Sister Pierick said in an earlier communication. She said reports of the home selling babies are "false news" "and "baseless innuendo."
Following the nun's arrest, the governments run by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state and in New Delhi initiated a series of investigations into Missionaries of Charity homes.
The federal Ministry of Women and Child Development on July 16 ordered inspections of all childcare homes run by the congregation across India.
State police chief D.K. Pandey wrote to the federal home secretary on July 11 urging the freezing of Missionaries of Charity bank accounts to help an investigation into whether there were violations of regulations over foreign funding. However, the accounts have not yet been suspended.
Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary-general of the Indian bishops' conference, said the nun's arrest was part of a series of anti-Christian incidents in the state.
He said such incidents aim to project Christians as lawbreakers in order to keep ordinary people away from missioners. "We are targeted for serving the poor and empowering them to stand on their own two feet," he told ucanews.com
Mother Teresa started the Missionaries of Charity congregation in 1950 to serve the "poorest of the poor."
The congregation today is a global enterprise with 5,000 nuns in over 770 houses, 243 of them in India. It runs homes for the destitute and dying as well as orphanages and shelter homes for unmarried mothers.