Shortly after the rejection of the renewal application, Missionaries of Charity (MoC) nuns were evicted from the Shishu Bhawan orphanage in Kanpur Cantonment, Uttar Pradesh on January 3, 2022.
Founded by Bharat Ratna and Nobel Laureate Mother Teresa, this home sheltered orphaned, destitute and abandoned children since its establishment in June 1968. The sisters owned the property for 53 years after buying it from a private entity and helped in the adoption of 1,500 abandoned babies. They also served thousands of other poor and deprived like leprosy patients, unwed mothers and children of construction or migrant labour.
Despite this, the Defence Estates Office (DEO) said on Monday that it owns all the land in the 62 cantonments of India. The DEO claimed that Shishu Bhawan was built on leased land and that the 90-year lease expired in 2019, following which the nuns were dubbed as “trespassers”. They were slapped with a penalty fee of ₹ 1 crore per annum, amounting to ₹ 2 crores now.
Expressing deep anguish on this news, the Indian Catholic Forum (ICF) on January 6 revealed how MoCs ran from pillar to post in Lucknow and New Delhi to get a hearing from the DEO or an appointment with the Defence Minister. Present Superior General of the congregation Sr Prema said that the Charity may not be able to meet the demands of the DEO, especially considering their access to foreign funding was denied due to alleged lacunae in their FCRA account renewal application.
On Christmas Day in 2021, MoC’s application was rejected by the Ministry of Home Affairs for “not meeting the eligibility conditions under FCRA 2010 and Foreign Contribution Regulation Rules (FCRR) 2011.” The government claimed “adverse inputs” in their application although it did not explain what these inputs were. It also claimed that the Charity “asked” State Bank of India to “freeze its accounts”, a claim that has been vehemently condemned by Opposition All India Trinamool Congress members.
According to The Hindu, a US-incorporated organisation, Global Peace Initiative approached the Supreme Court challenging this refusal to renew the registration. Yet, MoCs surrendered the property to the army authorities on Monday. The ICF suspected they did so in the hope that the penalty will be waived and their willingness to surrender the property will help in re-applying for the FCRA account.
“This logic is debatable. What will now happen to those 1500 families that had adopted children from Shishu Bhawan? It was always like a grandmother’s home for them. So too the orphaned who were given away in marriage looked to Shishu Bhawan as their maika,” said ICF Convener Chhotebhai in a press release.
The home is now deserted with the eleven remaining orphan children, most of whom are severely handicapped, relocated to other orphanages in Allahabad, Varanasi, Bareilly and Meerut. However, Chhotebhai pointed out that there were many legal recourses open to the MoC to retain the property. He questioned the logic in demanding an arbitrary amount of ₹ 2 crore from the MoC.
“It certainly doesn’t paint the army or DEO in a good light. Did it deliberately choose a soft target knowing that it did not have the stomach for a fight? This selective targeting also seems to have the mal odour of a communal bias,” he said.
The ICF called it “shameful” that the government treats its selfless workers in such a way. He mentioned that all Kanpur citizens were “outraged at this eviction and takeover, but remained mute spectators as the sisters had already decided to surrender the property.”
The central government has taken a very confusing stand in times of approaching elections by simultaneously inviting Pope Francis to India and removing over 900 Christian organisations from the FCRA list. Around December 2021, around 6,000 organisations were taken off the list under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). This includes 911 Christian organisations along with the MoC.
The rejected organisations also include Oxfam India which issued a statement declaring “humanitarian work of setting up oxygen plants, delivering lifesaving equipment to hospitals and strengthening health workers will now be severely affected” due to its exclusion from the list.
This is in accordance with the Supreme Court’s oral remark while looking at a petition challenging amendments to the FCRA that “these [changes] could discourage non-government organisations (NGOs) in the country.” Further it cannot be ignored that the adverse actions come in the wake of growing instances of communal violence against minority communities.
In fact, the United Christian Forum reported 486 incidents of violence and hate against the Christian community, 90 incidents in Chhattisgarh and with 102 cases in Uttar Pradesh – soon to face state elections.
Even the headquarters of the universal Catholic Church carried a long report on the survey of Karnataka churches, indicating growing concern among the community about communal hate.