On August 29, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) chairman Priyank Kanoongo, visited the Missionaries of Charity Ashram in Makarpura, Vadodara. He reportedly found a few ‘anomalies’ and wrote to the Collector to take action. Following this, the administration’s social welfare department, local police etc. made enquiries and found no problems in the running of the institution. This information was shared in a letter written by Archbishop Emeritus Stanlius Fernandes, Apostolic Administrator of Baroda, this ‘enquiry’ was in fact appreciative of the dedication of the nuns of the Missionaries of Charity (MC) founded by Mother Teresa.
However, the Bishop writes that it seems to be under “pressure” that even after this, the organisation was booked under the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, 2003, for allegedly “hurting Hindu religious sentiments” and “luring towards Christianity young girls” in the shelter home. An FIR was lodged on Sunday based on a complaint from District Social Defence Officer Mayank Trivedi who, along with the Chairman of the Child Welfare Committee of the district, visited the Home for Girls run by the Missionaries of Charity in Makarpura area on December 9.
According to the Bishop, the sisters (nuns) did not even know an FIR was registered against them till they received a call. Subsequently the media called to question them, and officials of the social welfare department, child welfare committee and police also went to ‘question’ the girls whose names were written on a Bible. “No MC sister was allowed to be present at this questioning,” shared the Bishop, adding that this is an “attempt to denigrate” Christian institutions as places of “conversions”. Trivedi has alleged that girls at the home were being “forced” to read Christian religious texts and participate in prayers of Christian faith, with the intention of “steering them into Christianity”.
The FIR quoted by Indian Express stated, “Between February 10, 2021, and December 9, 2021, the institution has been involved in activities to hurt the religious sentiments of Hindus intentionally and with bitterness… The girls inside the Home for Girls are being lured to adopt Christianity by making them wear the cross around their neck and also placing the Bible on the table of the storeroom used by the girls, in order to compel them to read the Bible… It is an attempted crime to force religious conversion upon the girls.”
The Missionaries of Charity denied any forceful conversion, while the police have initiated a probe after receiving the complaint. A spokesperson for the Missionaries of Charity told the media, “We are not involved in any religious conversion activity… We have 24 girls in the home. These girls live with us and they follow our practice as they see us doing the same when we pray and live. We have not converted anyone or forced anyone to marry into Christian faith.”
According to news reports, the Child Welfare Committee had complained that the MC had “forced a Hindu girl to marry into a Christian family as per Christian traditions” and also alleged that the girls living in the shelter home were “served non-vegetarian food despite being Hindus.” Assistant Commissioner of Police SB Kumavat told the media that the District Collector had issued instructions to book a case against the organisation after a committee probed the allegations made by Trivedi. He said, “The District Collector had formed a committee after the complaint from the Child Welfare Committee. A team of members of several departments probed the allegation, following which a complaint has been filed. Police will probe the allegations and gather evidence to see if the contentions are true.”
Vadodara Commissioner of Police Shamsher Singh also told The Indian Express that police had initiated a probe into the alleged conversion of a woman from Punjab. He said, “There has been one case of a woman from Punjab being converted by the Missionaries of Charity, after she lived in the home, which the committee has reported… There are exhaustive guidelines in place for shelter homes, which they must follow. We will examine the case on the basic FIR.” The organisation has been reportedly booked under IPC sections for “deliberate and malicious acts to outrage feelings of any class by insulting its religious beliefs (295 A), deliberately uttering words to wound the religious feelings of a person (298) as well as the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, 2003, which provides for prohibition of forcible conversion (Section 3) and punishment for forcible conversion with a term of three years imprisonment and a fine of Rs 50,000 and, in case of a minor being the ‘victim of forceful conversion’, imprisonment of four years and a fine of up to Rs 1 lakh (Section 4).”
Interestingly the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) team, led by its chairman Priyank Kanoongo, was reappointed to the post for a period of three years from October 17. This is Kanoongo’s second term as Chairperson of the apex child rights body, he was first appointed to the post in 2018.
Surprise inspection at a girls’ hostel in MP
On November 8 the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) team, led by its chairman Priyank Kanoongo, conducted a surprise inspection at a girls’ hostel at Kheri village in Raisen district, located around 50 kms northeast of Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh citing allegations of religious conversion. After the inspection the Commission has reportedly demanded a report within 10 days. The home is run by Catholic nuns, and the NCPCR has alleged that “religious conversions are suspected” there. The Chairman Priyank Kanoongo, shared a video, on his social media handles, of the team of men inspecting the girl’s rooms, and made notes that some copies of the Bible and a religious text were found there.
Raid team asked if ‘children had participated in the anti-CAA protests’
In October 2020, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) had conducted a “surprise raid” on two children’s welfare homes with which social activist Harsh Mander had once been associated. Strangely, the raiding party, according to Mander, who has been quoted in the media, asked the welfare home workers if the ‘children had participated in the anti-CAA protests’. The raid was conducted on the homes named Ummeed Aman Ghar and Khushi Rainbow Home, on October 1, and according to Mander, who issued a detailed statement, the raid “was led by chairperson of the NCPCR himself.”