Updated: March 03, 2021 04:52 AM GMT
Sacred Heart Convent High School in Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh state. (Photo: YouTube)
A Catholic nun facing arrest over conversion charges in India's Madhya Pradesh state has appealed to the state's high court for anticipatory bail after a trial court turned down her appeal for it.
Sisters of Destitute Sister Bhagya, principal of Sacred Heart Convent High School in Khajuraho of Chhatarpur district, appealed to the Jabalpur Bench of Madhya Pradesh High Court on March 2 for anticipatory bail to avoid police arresting her.
“The nun has appealed to the top court in the state for her anticipatory bail,” said Father Martin Punnolil, a priest of Satna Diocese, under which the nun works.
“We are hopeful that she will get justice from the high court,” the priest told UCA News on March 2.
The district court in Chhatarpur on Feb. 26 refused to grant the nun anticipatory bail.
Sister Bhagya faces arrest after 45-year-old Hindu woman Ruby Singh, a former teacher in the nun's school, complained to police on Feb. 22 that the nun used force to convert her.
Police filed charges against the nun under a stringent anti-conversion law enacted in January. The law makes it a criminal offense to use force, allurement or fraudulent means to convert a person from one religion to another.
The state government, run by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in January repealed a more than five-decades-old anti-conversion law to replace it with a more stringent law that allows the arrest of those accused of conversion. If convicted, the nun faces up to 10 years in jail.
Christians and Muslims, who are religious minorities in India, have opposed the law, saying it is a direct assault on freedom of religion guaranteed in the Indian constitution.
Father Punnolil said Sister Bhagya was “falsely implicated” after the school terminated the services of Singh following complaints from students and their parents during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Singh, who had been teaching at the school since 2016, said in her complaint that she was terminated because she refused to yield to the nun’s pressure to abandon her Hindu faith and become a Christian.
Narottam Mishra, the state's home minister, said 23 cases such cases had been registered under the new law since it came into force on Jan. 9.
Christian leaders claim the law is framed to criminalize missionary activities. Offering education, health care or even mere help can be construed as force or allurement for conversion, making it difficult for them to work, they say.