A video circulating in social media shows a nun and a student facing questioning from Hindu activists inside a train in India. (screengrab)
Two Catholic nuns in northern India were forced to change out of their religious habits midway through a rail journey on March 19 and wear civilian clothes to protect themselves and two postulants with them from possible attacks by right-wing Hindu activists.
The young nuns and postulants had been taken to a railway police station the day before where they were interrogated for hours following accusations they were with the postulants to convert them.
They were released late on the same day after five hours of intense questioning following intervention from senior police and Church officials.
“Our sisters and the postulants were on their way to Rourkela," in the eastern state of Odisha, said Sister Usha Maria, Delhi provincial of the Sacred Heart Congregation (SH). The nuns were traveling "to drop the postulants off at their homes at the start of their summer holiday,” she told UCA News on March 22.
As they reached Jhansi station in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, several Hindu youths questioned the nuns, asking if they were Christians and asked about the postulants who were in civilian clothes.
They told the youths that all of them were Christian since birth, but the Hindus accused the nuns of taking the postulants for religious conversion.
The youths then began causing a commotion and as the train reached Jhansi station at 6.30 pm some 150 youths gathered and accused the nuns of violating the state’s anti-conversion law.
A police officer called to the scene entered their compartment and told them to accompany him, even though they had valid documents.
Despite their protests, the policeman demanded they go to the local railway police station and forced them out of their compartment, Sister Maria said.
As they disembarked from the train the Hindu youths shouted abuse against them, she added.
One of the nuns insisted that they would not accompany the male officer without a female officer present so two policewomen were sent to take them to the station.
The youths continued to accuse them of violating the anti-conversion law in the state outside the police station.
The nuns and the postulants were quizzed for five hours and released after officials from Jhansi Diocese intervened by contacting senior police officials.
“We also provided all legal documents proving they were Christians to secure their release,” Sister Maria added.
The diocesan officials provided accommodation that night and the next day they were allowed to continue their journey on another train with a police escort fearing retaliation from the right-wing Hindu activists.
“The nuns had to change out of their religious habits and put on civilian clothes in order to avoid the attention of Hindu extremists,” Sister Maria said.
She refused to reveal the identities of the nuns and the postulants saying “they were still traumatized by the ordeal.”
Uttar Pradesh is a state where Christians and Muslims say they have faced immense hardship after the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party under the leadership of Hindu monk Yogi Adithyanath took the reins of government in 2017.
“This incident with the nuns is an indication of what is in store for us,” one local churchman told UCA News on condition of anonymity.
“We don’t carry our baptismal certificates when we travel and any other documents to prove our religious identity. They had valid railway tickets and their Aadhar [identity] card, but still, the police did not respect such documents and forced them off the train and harassed them,” said a Catholic leader.
“The fact that officials acted in such a way based upon someone’s suspicion despite being presented legal documents ... is a matter of serious worry for all of us,” the churchman added.
“These kinds of activities are indications that we as a country are heading towards chaos rather than good governance.”