Missionaries of Charity nuns pray at the tomb of congregation founder Mother Teresa to mark her 109th birth anniversary in Kolkata on Aug. 26. (Photo: Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP)
The Jharkhand government in eastern India has asked Missionaries of Charity nuns to reopen their children's home that was shut down 16 months ago as police began probing baby-selling charges against the nuns.
The state's Child Welfare Committee (CWC) wanted the nuns to reopen their Nirmala Shishu Bhawan (innocent children's home) in state capital Ranchi after the government forced them to close it in July 2018.
"A team of CWC officials inspected the building last week and urged the nuns to reopen it. They wanted the nuns to start keeping children again there," said Father Anand David Xalxo, public relations officer of Ranchi Archdiocese.
The orphanage is attached to a care center the nuns run for unwed mothers. The government closed the orphanage after police arrested Sister Concilia Baxla on charges of selling a baby for money.
The 22 children in the children's' home were moved to government shelter homes.
Sister Baxla, 62, was released on bail only on Sept. 27 this year. But soon after two similar cases of baby selling were filed against the nuns' center, the latest in November. Police continue investigating them.
Father Xalxo said the nuns are ready to help the needy and reopen the orphanage.
"But we need more clarifications from the government before we reopen the shelter home," he told ucanews on Nov. 25.
"On one hand, the government wants us to start adoption, and on the other police file false cases against the nuns, with stinging allegations such as child trafficking. How can we function under such circumstances?" he asked.
The CWC request to reopen the orphanage comes a week after Auxiliary Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas of Ranchi sought federal investigation of the role of the CWC in the alleged cases of baby selling.He said the nuns gave all three babies for adoption with the consent of the CWC and complied with all rules and regulations. They also have documents to prove their position.
The bishop wanted police to investigate the CWC in case of complaints, not the nuns.
"The nuns did everything as per the laws and approval of the CWC. But the officials of the government body are spared and only the nuns are being harassed. We need to know the truth," he said.
The prelate also sought the whereabouts of 22 children forcefully taken away from the nun's care last year.
CWC chairperson Rupa Verma told media that the government agency was "facing problems to shelter children of single parents who come to us. So we requested the shelter home officials to reopen."
Some church people who do not want to be quoted suspect a political ploy in the government's move as the state is facing a five-phase election from Nov. 20 to Dec. 20.
The attempt could be to please Christian voters who are decisive in some pockets of the state. It could also help project the government, run by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), as one collaborating with Christian missionaries for social welfare projects, they said.
The Christian vote is crucial for the electoral success of the BJP in some of the 81 constituencies.
Jharkhand has close to 1.5 million Christians, almost all tribal people, in a population of 32 million. Its 4.3 percent Christian population is nearly double that of the national figure.
Since 2014, the BJP has run the government in the state, where Christians have been complaining of facing violence and harassment at the hands of pro-Hindu groups who want to make India a Hindu-only nation.
Hindu groups also oppose missionaries and their social and educational services, projecting them as a façade for religious conversion.
Mother Teresa, who was canonized as St. Teresa of Calcutta in 2016, started the Missionaries of Charity congregation in 1950 to serve the "poorest of the poor."
Missionaries of Charity has 5,000 nuns in over 770 houses, 243 of them in India. They run homes for the destitute and dying besides shelter homes for unwed mothers and orphanages.