Updated: March 17, 2021 12:21 PM GMT
Sacred Heart Convent High School in Khajuraho city in Chhatarpur in Madhya Pradesh state. The school principal was accused of trying to converting a staff member. (Photo: Sacred Heart Convent High School)
The High Court of India’s Madhya Pradesh state has restrained police from arresting a Catholic nun accused of attempting to convert a Hindu woman to Christianity.
The bench of the court in Jabalpur city on March 16 also asked the accused, Sister Bhagya of the Sisters of the Destitute congregation, to cooperate with police in the investigation of the case against her.
The court granted the nun anticipatory bail on a personal bond of 10,000 rupees (US$140) with one solvent surety of the same amount.
The nun, principal of Sacred Heart Convent High School in Khajuraho city in Chhatarpur district, has been facing arrest after police charged her with violating a stringent anti-conversion law.
The Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Ordinance was introduced in January and stipulates up to 10 years jail for religious conversions through allurement, force or coercion.
The law also allows the accused to be arrested before the investigation is completed.
The complainant, a former assistant librarian at the school, complained to police that her husband was suffering from a mental disorder and the nun promised to cure him if the family converted to Christianity.
The nun’s counsel told the court that the case was fabricated and there was no evidence to substantiate the allegation.
As the police continue the investigation, the nuns should be given interim protection from arrest, the lawyer said.
The single bench of Justice Atul Sreedharan granted the nun protection from arrest with a direction that she “join the investigation as and when required by the police.” The case was adjourned to April 7 for a further hearing.
“We are very happy that our sister got protection from arrest,” said Father Martin Punnolil, a priest of Satna Diocese, under which Sister Bhagya works.
Father Punnolil said the “absolutely false and concocted” case comes from the “frustration” of the complainant, who was terminated from her job because of her poor performance.
In an effort to get reinstated, the complainant had threatened self-immolation near the school. A complaint about this incident is pending before district officials.
Father Punnolil said the police could not prove the allegations as the nun and the complainant have not talked even on the phone since the Covid-19 lockdown started in March 2020.
Madhya Pradesh, where the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) runs the government, is considered a hotbed of anti-Christian violence by groups supporting Hindu nationalist ideology.
Local Christian leaders say the government sharpened an existing anti-conversion law aiming to criminalize Christian missionary activities such as providing education and health care, which could be construed as an allurement for conversion.The state has recorded at least 23 anti-conversion cases since the new law came into force on Jan. 9.