Police in India are investigating the religious order founded by St Teresa of Calcutta for allegedly forcing Hindu girls to convert to Christianity.
The Missionaries of Charity has been accused of compelling girls in an orphanage in the western state of Gujarat to read the Bible, pray and wear crosses.
The investigation follows an inspection carried out on the orphanage in Vadodara earlier this month by Mayank Trivedi, the district manager of social services, in conjunction with the Committee for the Defence of Children.
According to the complaint, the girls, who had been rescued from forced labour or were orphans, were subjected to Catholic practices with the intention of “turning them to Christianity”.
Inspectors also said that the nuns were engaged in “activities that intentionally and rancorously offend the religious feelings of Hindus”.
An anti-conversion law introduced into Gujarat – the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi – prohibits “forceful conversions” by followers of non-Hindu religions.
The Missionaries of Charity have denied the accusations.
One of them, Sister Clarissa, speaking to AsiaNews from the house in Vadodara, said: “We are in shock, what they say is not true at all and the investigations are ongoing.”
She said that Sister Mary Prema Pierick, the superior of the Missionaries of Charity, has “called us to express her closeness and is praying for us”.
“Everyone is praying for us and consoling us, including many people of other religions. Please keep praying for us,” she said.
Archbishop of Felix MachadoVasai, secretary general of the Indian Bishops’ Conference told the news agency that he was “deeply distressed” by the investigation.
“We believe in the laws of this country, the police have the right to investigate,” the archbishop said.
“But let us not forget the scenes of Mother Teresa’s funeral with full state honours, or the Bharat Ratna, the highest honour of the country awarded to her in 1980. Can her story be erased together with all that she did for India?”
He said: “Serving the poor is an integral part of our Christian faith, standing by the last, the orphans, the forgotten. Where will this country end up if we deny respect for all religions and continue to propagate suspicion towards others?”
He added: “It is time for a serious reflection, to return to the glorious traditions of India, not to political exploitation”.
Gujarat is one of several states in India to introduce punitive legislation against the activities of non-Hindu religious believers since Mr Modi was re-elected in 2019.
At least 80 people in the state of Uttar Pradesh, the majority of whom were Muslims, have been jailed under such laws.
Although nearly 80 per cent of the country’s one billion population are Hindu, there are also 28 million Christians, who make up 2.3 per cent of its population.
Some Christian communities in India were established by St Thomas, the Apostle, in the first century.
Persecution of Christian minorities on the sub-continent is increasing, however, with more than 300 anti-Christian incidents recorded in 2021 alone, including an attack on a school by a Hindu mob while children were sitting their exams.
Hindu nationalist politicians often stoke hatred against Christians, castigating them as outsiders who cannot be trusted.
The country in 2020 was ranked the 10th worst in the world for the persecution of Christians by Open Doors, the human rights group.
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