MUMBAI, India - A religious sister in India has been charged with human trafficking after she accompanied four young women on a train in central India on June 13.
The Railway Police and Hindu nationalists stopped the women in the state of Madhya Pradesh as they were travelling to Bhopal.
Hindu nationalists accused the nun of trying to convert the others to Christianity.
The police said one of the girls was a minor, although Sister Bina Joseph maintains all were over the age of 20.
Madhya Pradesh state, which is over 90 percent Hindu and less than 1 percent Christian, is ruled by the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which also controls the national government.
The BJP has strong links to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a militant Hindu nationalist organization. Groups affiliated with the RSS participated in the detention of Joseph and the women accompanying her to Bhopal.
In two separate incidents in May, groups of Christians in the same state were taken into custody, charged with trying to convert Hindus to Christianity, after being stopped on trains.
“I strongly condemn this harassment by rogue elements who profess their political allegiance-alliance with the ruling party,” said Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal.
He told Crux the detention of the nun was “absolutely wrong,” and violated her rights as a citizen of India.
“The Catholic nun was travelling in a public transport, and was subjected to harassment, intimidation and humiliation by the police,” the archbishop continued.
“This behaviour of the police is strongly condemned, the minority community, is being targeted by fringe elements of the ruling party and in any devious manner, the ‘conversion’ allegations are levied against the minority Christian community, even in the case of travelling, as in this case,” Cornelio said.
He told Crux the Government is not doing enough to curb “these fringe elements,” who he says are taking advantage of the fact that the BJP is in power.
“Scores of poor students from remote rural areas study in our schools and reside in our hostels and they need to travel,” he said.
The Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, passed in 1968 and amended in 2013, makes it mandatory to seek government permission before conversion. The law imposes jail time for alleged “forced” conversions.
Cornelio said it seems that in the present time, even travelling by public transport is being linked to conversion.
“I strongly condemn this harassment of the minority,” the archbishop said.
Sister Tripti, the vice provincial of the Carmelite Sisters of St. Teresa, the order in which Joseph belongs, told Crux the religious sister was detained until midnight after spending nearly 12 hours at the railway police station, together with the three young women.
The one determined by the authorities to be a minor was turned over to a child services agency.
Charges were filed after the young woman’s relatives filed a complaint, which Father Stephen Maria, a local priest, told Crux was made under pressure from “right wing extremists.”
Tripti said despite the harassment, the order will continue in its mission.
“These girls hail from impoverished families from remote rural areas, and were enroute to Bhopal for their own empowerment,” Tripti said. “This incident, however, does not deter us. We will continue to serve the poor.”
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