Church and political leaders in India have condemned the reported harassment of Catholic nuns who were traveling on a train from Delhi to Odisha last week.
Two nuns and two postulants were reportedly taken off an express train and detained for questioning by railway police in Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh on March 19.
According to officials in Jhansi, the nuns were detained after local Bajrang Dal activists complained that two women were allegedly being taken forcibly for religious conversion.
The police said the complaint has no basis and all four women, who are members of the Congregation of the Sacred Heart Society, later took the next train to their destination in Odisha.
“Such incidents bring dishonor and shame to all of us, the law abiding citizens of Mother India," said Archbishop Felix Macahado, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India.
He said that it is “distressing that the four religious sisters were accused of unfounded allegations by some fellow travelers without any recourse to law.”
Father Jacob G Palackappilly, spokesperson of the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Conference, said “We feel the government at the center does not have any regard for the Christian community.”
“We would like to ask Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath if he can move around in the country in saffron robes, why can’t religious personalities of other religions do the same in their customary attire?” said the priest.
Pinarayi Vijayan, chief minister of Kerala, said “such incidents tarnish the image of the nation and its ancient tradition of religious tolerance and practice.”
He called on the Home Minister to take strict action on groups and individuals who would disrupt the individual rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution.
“Such incidents require utmost condemnation by the Union Government," he said.
India's Minister for Home Affairs, Amit Shah, has assured the Christian community that those who harassed the nuns will be arrested.
The assurance came in response to the Chief Minister of Kerala’s Left government, Pinarayi Vijayan, who sent a letter to the Home Minister demanding action against “all groups and individuals who disrupt and impair the freedom of individual rights guaranteed by the Constitution.”
Shah was speaking at an election rally in Kerala’s Kanjirappally, which has a sizeable Christian population. He said his party’s “government in Uttar Pradesh will ensure that the culprits … will be brought to justice.”
The Bharatiya Janata Party, which has called for “anti-conversion” laws in several states across India, called for an inquiry into the incident to punish those responsible for the harassment of the nuns. - Frank Krishner RVA News