A Missionaries of Charity nun takes care of a child at the Nirmala Shishu Bhavan orphanage in Kolkata in this 2015 file photo. Mother Teresa began this first orphanage in 1955. (Photo by Julian S. Das)
Christian leaders say the pro-Hindu government in India's Jharkhand state has started a witch hunt against Christian institutions days after police arrested a Missionaries of Charity (MC) nun accused of child trafficking.
Officials of the government, run by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), are conducting searches in Christian institutions, particularly MC homes, in state capital Ranchi and other cities such as Jamshedpur and Gumla.
"The government is targeting our institutions to defame us," said Auxiliary Bishop Telesphore Bilung of Ranchi.
The searches and investigations started after MC Sister Concilia, who runs a home for unmarried mothers in Ranchi, was remanded in judicial custody for 14 days on July 5.
"We have reports from different parts of the state about government searches. Through these search operations, the government is trying to prove that Christians and their institutions are involved in illegal activities," Bishop Bilung said.
Sister Concilia heads Nirmal Hriday (tender heart) home. She was arrested along with a staff member following complaints that the staff member took money to give a baby to a childless couple but failed to keep her promise.
Officials also raided another MC home, Nirmala Shishubhavan (home of pure children), and moved 22 of its children to a government facility, said Father Peter Martin, a lawyer who is providing legal help for nuns.
The government also moved 13 unwed mothers from Nirmal Hriday to government-run shelter homes, he said.
Father Martin said the government's actions are illegal and church officials plan to go to the state's High Court to seek its direction to "end such illegal practice and harassment" of the Christian community.
Abhraham Mathai, president of Indian Christian Voice, told ucanews.com that the judiciary should take notice of what is happening in Jharkhand.
The former vice-chairman of the Maharashtra State Minorities Commission said it is a known fact that MC nuns stopped giving babies for adoption in 2015 after they disagreed on principle with government rules which enabled single, divorced and separated couples to adopt children.
"Charging the nuns with child trafficking is wildly absurd, unreasonable and nonsensical," Mathai said.
He called on the judiciary to stop victimization of the nuns, which is "engineered by malicious motives to bring the admirable work of Missionaries of Charity to shame and disrepute both at home and abroad."
Mathai said Hindu groups had previously attempted without success to accuse MC nuns of engaging in conversion activities. "It is not surprising that those malicious elements have resurfaced yet again to get the nuns arrested on dubious charges," he said.
MC nuns' spokeswoman Sunita Kumar said the record of the MC congregation, which St. Mother Teresa of Kolkata started in 1950, "is before the public to see."
Welcoming any government investigation, she told ucanews.com: "We have nothing to hide."
The congregation, which pledges to serve the "poorest of the poor," 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.
Christian leaders say that ever since the BJP government came to power in 2014, their community has suffered violence and harassment at the hands of Hindu groups, who have stepped up activities to push their goal of making India a Hindu-only nation.
Jharkhand has close to one million Christians, almost all of them tribal people, in a population of 32 million. Its 4.3 percent Christian population is almost double that of the national figure.