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Indian nuns refused Covid-19 death compensation

Sisters of the Destitute, the congregation to which the four nuns belonged, says it’s not about money but their right as citizens
Catholic nuns walk the streets of White Town in Pondicherry on April 10

Catholic nuns walk the streets of White Town in Pondicherry on April 10. (Photo: AFP)

Published: July 23, 2022 05:10 AM GMT
Updated: July 23, 2022 07:07 AM GMT

Church officials in the southern Indian state of Kerala are upset with the provincial government for refusing to pay financial compensation to Catholic nuns who died of Covid-19.

Authorities declined to pay the Covid-19 death compensation of Rs 50,000 (US$625) each to four nuns belonging to the indigenous order of Sisters of the Destitute (SD).

“I moved the claims for compensation,” Sister Kiran Mandoth, SD, told UCA News on July 22. “The officials at the village and district made me run from pillar to post to gather nearly a dozen documents including death certificates. I was made to wait for over a year only to be told that nuns were not eligible for compensation.”

Sister Mandoth said the officials cited no reason for the denial of compensation. “It is not about the money. But are nuns not citizens of India,” she asked.

Father Jacob Palakkappilly, the spokesman of the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council (KCBC), said the provincial government has no right to block humanitarian services to anyone including Catholic nuns, priests or seers, regardless of their religion.

“This is injustice and discrimination against the nuns who are citizens of India,” he said.

The provincial governments were ordered to pay exgratia compensation to families of persons who died of Covid-19 by the Supreme Court of India in October 2021.

Government officials justified their decision by claiming only close family members or the kin of the deceased persons were legally eligible to claim the compensation amount. In the case of the four nuns, claims were made by their congregation, they said.

Sister Mandoth disagreed and argued that “once a girl becomes a nun, her religious congregation becomes her family. In the case of the nuns, the officials accepted the applications along with legal documents provided by the congregation. Then why this discriminatory attitude when it comes to paying,” she asked.

Father Palakkappilly appealed to the government to treat every citizen of India equally, irrespective of the way of life they have adopted and led.

“The Catholic nuns are entitled to the legal benefits announced by the topmost court in the country,” said the priest while terming the denial of it as a serious human right violation. He urged the state human rights commission to step in and help the congregation get what they legally deserve.

Over 400 priests and nuns have died in India due to Covid-19, most of them succumbing at the height of the devastating second wave of infections in the country in April and May, according to an unofficial estimate. Some 210 among them were nuns.

The number could be higher as not all casualties were recorded as Covid deaths, according to Church officials.

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