The main news in Times of India (Bhopal edition) on June 14 was “ Nun & four girls detained by GRP after Bajrang Dal alleges conversion bid”. Sr. Bina Joseph CSST was travelling with four tribal girls from Jharkhand’s Pakur district to Bhopal. When they reached Satna in Madhya Pradesh on 13th June they were taken off the Shipra Express by the Government Railway Police (GRP) on the complaint of Hindu right wing activists that the girls were taken for conversion. Then the sister and the girls were detained for over 12 hours despite orders from Satna Sub-divisional Magistrate to free four of them and put an alleged minor in the custody of the Child Line.
As reported in Times of India, around 50 Bajrang Dal activists filed a complaint on June 13 that Sr. Bina of Bhopal was bringing more than 25 tribal girls from Jharkhand for “religious conversion in exchange of money”. The complaint was made one hour before the arrival of the train and GRP swung into the action of searching the train. The sister and the girls had to undergo an ordeal because of the false and malicious complaint of the Bajrang Dal activists. It is a gross violation of an Indian citizen’s right to travel anywhere in India.
This is not the first time that Church personnel are accused of conversion when they take girls and boys with them and false cases filed against them because of the allegations of Hindu right wing groups. On 21st May police had detained 59 children and five Sunday school supervisors along with three Christian leaders in Ratlam and two Christian leaders along with 12 children were detained in Indore. The reason for the detention and the consequent ordeal is the suspicion of conversion. The children were going for a Vocation Bible School Summer Camp and these camps are held every year in summer for Christian Children by various churches according to Dhoom Singh Bariay, the pastor of an independent Church in Jhabua.
These persecutions and harassments are the result of a well planned strategy of the Sangh Parivar members. They have a well knit mechanism to collect information about the travel of Christian religious personnel, especially when they take tribal girls and boys along with them. One of the strategies of the Sangh Parivar is to make use of the existing laws to harass Christians and Muslims with the support of a very pliable police force. These harassments are widely published by the print and the electronic media and it is a further boost to the Hindutva forces. No action is taken against the persons who make false complaints. New rules are being framed by the government to make the harassment easier for the Sangh Parivar outfits. The best example is the ban of sale of cows and buffaloes for slaughter in the markets. “The new rules will render jobless five crore people engaged in meat export, buffalo transport, skinning and leather trade”, says Sirajuddin Qureshi, the head of Jamaitul Quresh. Most of the people involved in these trades are Muslims. The ultimate goal of the Sangh Parivar is not protecting the cows but to take away the livelihood of Muslims and make them starve. In the same way the boggy of ‘conversion’ is being used to harass and persecute Christians. It is nothing but a fascist approach.
Muslims and the Roman Catholic Church in Goa have come together to back a civil society collective called Goa for Beef-Beef for Goa in order to protest the policy of the BJP government regarding the whole issue of beef. The Qureshi Meat Traders Association filed a writ petition on June 12 before the Goa bench of the Bombay High Court, seeking a stay on the May 26th notification banning the sale and purchase of cattle from animal markets for slaughter as per an Indian Express report.
Ever since the BJP government under the leadership of Narendra Modi came to power at the centre there has been a spurt in the attacks on the Muslims and Christians. Unfortunately, the Catholic Church in India has not evolved a strategy to face the Hindutva onslaught. The CBCI meet in Bangalore from February 2 to March 9, 2016 did not formulate a strategy to face the challenge of Hindutva. Similarly the CCBI meeting in January 2017 also did not feel the need to evolve a strategy to deal with the increasing Hindutva assault on the minorities. There was no response either from the CBCI spokesperson in Delhi or the Public Relations Officer of the M P Bishop’s Regional Conference to the harassment of Sr. Bina Joseph and the four tribal girls in Satna.
The Church in India has a prophetic role to play when the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of the citizens are violated and the minorities are targeted by the vigilante groups. The silence of the Church on the killing of innocent Muslims by the cow vigilantes is totally unchristian. Similarly, when the religious sisters, who are the workforce of the Catholic Church, are attacked by the communal forces the Church has to raise its voice and adopt ways and means to prevent such incidents in the future. Declaring them martyrs after their brutal killing is not enough.
The Church in Madhya Pradesh has to take immediate action to protest against the harassment of Sr. Bina and the four tribal girls. A protest meeting is to be organized in Bhopal in collaboration with other Christian denominations and Civil Society Organizations at a public place without any delay and all the bishops of MP have to be present at the protest meeting. The concerns of the Christians and other minority communities are to be brought to the attention of the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh in the form of a memorandum. If the Bishops keep mum now greater attacks will take place in the near future.
Some of the attacks on the Church personnel are taking place due to ignorance and lack of prudence. It is known from reliable sources that the four tribal girls were brought to work in the institutions of Sr. Bina’s Congregation. Instead of a sister bringing the girls all the way from Jharkhand the parents or relatives of the girls could have been asked to bring the girls to Bhopal. Similarly, when girls are brought to work in the Church institutions it is to be verified whether they are minors or not and there should be documents to prove that they are above the age of 18. A letter from the parents of the girl concerned stating that the girl is sent with their full knowledge and consent will be very useful to disprove the allegation of ‘conversion’ or illegal trafficking.
Many Religious Congregations are recruiting tribal girls from Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and the North Eastern states. Many of these girls could be below the age of 18 and the sisters who are in charge of these girls could be accused of illegal trafficking of girls. Letter of consent form the parents of the girls that they are sent for education is essential. In consultation with legal experts precautionary measures are to be adopted so that false case may not be filed against the Church personnel.
The dioceses and religious congregations are running hostels for the boys and girls of tribal and dalit communities. The bishops of the dioceses have to see that these hostels/boarding houses have the required permissions from the government and they follow the government norms and regulations. The practice of taking non-Christian children to Christian prayers and Mass is to be stopped because it is a violation of child rights. Will the Church agree if a hostel run by a Hindu organization compulsorily takes Catholic children for Hindu prayers and rites? Let the bishops and Church personnel follow the teaching of Jesus in this regard. "Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets”. (Mt. 7:12).
The CBCI and the CRI shall together convene a special meeting to evolve a strategy to face the onslaught of Hindutva forces. Adequate representation is to be given to the lay people in this meeting. Let there be sufficient preparation before holding the meeting. This should have been done when the Modi government took charge. Time is running out for the Church in India to wake up from its slumber.(Published on 19th June 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 25)