Updated: February 24, 2021 10:06 AM GMT
Sacred Heart Convent High School in Khajuraho of Chhatarpur district. (Photo supplied)
Police in India’s Madhya Pradesh state have charged a Catholic nun with violating the state’s stringent anti-conversion law after she was accused of trying to allure a Hindu teacher to Christianity.
Police registered charges against Sisters of Destitute Sister Bhagya, principal of Sacred Heart Convent High School in Khajuraho of Chhatarpur district, on Feb. 22, according to local church officials.
“It is absolutely a false charge,” said Father Paul Varghese, public relations officer of Satna Diocese, which covers the area of the nun’s school.
He said the case was the latest in a series of such cases filed against Christians after the state’s pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government implemented a new anti-conversion law in January.
The case against the nun is based on the complaint of Ruby Singh, a Hindu woman who joined the school as a teacher in 2016. The school management terminated her services last year during the Covid-19 lockdown after complaints about her teaching from parents and students.
Singh complained to police that she was terminated because she refused the nun’s pressure to abandon her Hindu faith and become a Christian.
The 45-year-old woman’s complaint accused the nun of violating the law enacted in January. It criminalizes any force, allurement or fraudulent means to change a person’s religion for another religion.
“Sister Bhagya is innocent and she is falsely accused by [someone] taking advantage of the loopholes in the new anti-conversion law,” Father Varghese told UCA News on Feb. 24.
“The case is the result of her termination. The woman unsuccessfully staged a protest in front of the convent and school demanding to be reinstated."
The school is run by the Sisters of the Destitute and has some 1,000 students. As Singh continued to create a problem, the school management complained to the police on Feb. 17 seeking protection from her.
In turn, she filed a complaint accusing the school principal of trying to allure her to become Christian, Father Varghese added.
Right-wing Hindu activists also demonstrated in front of the police station demanding the immediate arrest of the nun.
The nun, meanwhile, has moved an anticipatory bail application before the district court.
Church leaders say the new anti-conversion law has become a tool to target Christians in Madhya Pradesh, a hotbed of anti-Christian activities.
“Now, if a Christian recommends a poor student in any of our schools for free education, it can be termed as a case of allurement to convert that student,” Father Maria Stephan, public relations officer of the Church in the state, told UCA News on Feb. 24.
The law makes it clear that the onus of proving innocence is on the accused and has not fixed the burden of proof on the accuser, he said.
"Now anybody can accuse a Christian of violating the anti-conversion law and police can initiate an investigation without any evidence to substantiate the charges, as in the case of Sister Bhagya,” the priest added.
According to church leaders, nearly a dozen cases have been registered against Christians and at least 12 people were jailed in just two months after the law came into force.
Christians are also targeted for holding prayer meetings in their private homes and other prayer centers in the state.
On Jan. 26, right-wing activists forced their way into a Protestant prayer service in Indore, accusing it of religious conversion activities. Police arrested nine people.
Similar incidents have been reported from other parts of Madhya Pradesh.
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