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Indian diocese stands with nun sacked over baseless allegation

Sister Mary Selvaraj was accused of making derogatory remarks against Hindu gods based on an 'unverified audio clip'
Crowds of people protest in front of St. Gerosa English Medium Higher Primary School in Mangaluru, on Feb. 12 seeking the dismissal of one of its teachers, Sister Mary Prabha Selvaraj, after she was accused of insulting Hindu gods.

Crowds of people protest in front of St. Gerosa English Medium Higher Primary School in Mangaluru, on Feb. 12 seeking the dismissal of one of its teachers, Sister Mary Prabha Selvaraj, after she was accused of insulting Hindu gods. (Photo: File)

Published: February 16, 2024 10:55 AM GMT
Updated: February 16, 2024 11:26 AM GMT

An Indian Catholic diocese in southern Karnataka state has sought justice for a nun who was sacked from her teaching job under pressure from hardline Hindu groups who alleged she spoke ill of Hindu deities and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Sister Mary Prabha Selvaraj, a teacher at St. Gerosa English Medium Higher Primary School, run by the Sisters of Charity in Mangaluru (formerly Mangalore), was removed on Feb. 12 following protests against her.

The protests were led by D. Vedavyas Kamath, a legislator from the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who vowed to continue them until the nun was shown the door.

The allegation against Selvaraj was based on an audio clip circulated by a parent on social media.

The audio clip reportedly carried the voice of the nun teaching a poem, Work is Worship, by Rabindranath Tagore, the Indian poet who won the Nobel for literature in 1913. The poem stresses that God is not confined to a particular religious place of worship. 

Soon after the audio clip went viral on social media platforms, there were calls made for boycotting Christian schools.

The protesters claimed the nun made derogatory remarks against Hindu deities and the Indian prime minister and caused chaos in the school, which has more than 1,000 students.

District administration officials who visited the school advised the management to terminate the nun to maintain law and order.

Father J. B. Saldanha, public relations officer of Mangalore diocese, said: “We will soon file a complaint with the cyber police demanding action against the person who posted the audio clip.” 

The school, under pressure from the protesters and officials, had to remove her despite no evidence to substantiate the allegation made against her, Church officials said.

“The nun was forced out from the school without any proof other than an unverified audio clip,” Father Saldanha told UCA News on Feb. 16.

The truth will come out after the police find the person who released it, the priest said.

The police have not made any arrests in connection with the case though they have registered a case against five hardline Hindu leaders, including two BJP lawmakers based on a complaint by a parent.

Archbishop Peter Machado of Bangalore has condemned the attack on the school.

“Sadly, this reputed institution is made to suffer humiliation for a stray incident, which is not investigated properly,” the prelate said in a statement on Feb. 15.

The prelate questioned the role of political leaders in creating “disharmony and disunity.”

"Some religious fundamentalist groups level false allegations against Christians to take revenge or to fan religious animosity," he said. Such groups spread rumors to divide people and the allegaiton against the nun could be one such case, the bishop added.

Christians, "especially the priests and nuns, do always respect all the religions and uphold their religious tenets,” he added.

The school management has not yet filed a complaint about the incident, said Sister Irene Menezes, provincial superior of the Sisters of Charity.

However, the school continues to function under police protection, the nun told UCA News on Feb. 16.

The BJP-led government, which ruled Karnataka till May 2023 enacted a draconian anti-conversion law. Under its rule Christians and their institution were targeted, Church leaders said.

Currently, the state is led by the Congress party, which vows to protect the interests of religious minorities, including Christians.

Mangalore diocese has a strong presence of Catholics with several Church-run educational and healthcare institutions. Christianity arrived in the coastal city with Portuguese missionaries in 1521.

The diocese has produced hundreds of missionaries and over 50 bishops, who work across India. Currently, 29 bishops and three archbishops from Mangaluru work in Indian dioceses.

Christians form 1.87 percent of Karnataka’s 61 million people and 80 percent of them are Hindus.

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JOSEPH ANTHONY GATHIA
Innocent Sr. Selvraj in Karnataka is suffering for Christ. Prayers.
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