IT doesn’t matter what your church allegiance is, or even if you have none; most people think that the Missionaries of Charity, the religious order founded by Mother Teresa, is a good thing.
The order, with 4,500 nuns, is dedicated to ‘wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor’. The nuns care for refugees, former prostitutes, the mentally ill, sick and abandoned children, lepers, those with Aids, the aged, the convalescent. They run schools staffed by volunteers to educate street children. They run soup kitchens to feed the destitute. All this is provided free of charge and open to anyone regardless of religion, race or caste.
The Missionaries of Charity have a pretty impressive résumé, one probably unmatched anywhere in the world. But then there is poverty in India probably unmatched in any other country with its own space programme.
India has one of the fastest growing economies in the world and a growing middle class, but poverty, although dropping, is widespread. In 2014, the Rangarajan Committee, heading by a former Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, said the population below the poverty line in 2009-2010 numbered 454million (38.2 per cent of the population) and in 2011-2012 had dropped to 363million (29.5 per cent of the population). In India poverty means poverty. According to the government’s own figures, rural poverty in 2011 meant having less than 816 rupees, or £9.33 a month, or 31p a day.
There is still ample need for the Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity.
Despite their impressive work in meeting the needs of those whom no one else helps, one of the nuns has spent the last 15 months in jail. Sister Concelia Baxla, 62, from the Indian state of Jharkhand, was finally released on September 27 on bail of 10,000 rupees (£114) and two sureties of the same amount. She was ordered to leave her passport with the court.
Sister Concelia was arrested in July 2018, with Anima Indwar, a maid at the Missionaries of Charity’s Nirmal Hriday shelter in Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand. Sister Concelia was in charge of the umarried mothers section at the home. Indwar’s task was to escort the women, their babies and their guardians to hospital and to the Child Welfare Committee office when the religious sisters were engaged with other duties.
During one Child Welfare Committee check a child was missing, and Indwar admitted that she had sold the baby and other children. Sister Concelia said that she found out about this only later, that she informed the authorities and that she did not take any money from the sale.
The nun faced charges of human trafficking and it was alleged that Indwar took money for facilitating an adoption. The couple who supposedly ‘purchased’ the child were quickly granted bail on the statement of the child’s mother that she handed over the child of her own free will. Indwar was also granted bail.
However Sister Concelia, who has diabetes, was remanded in custody, and bail was denied on several occasions.
Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, who visited Sister Concelia in prison, sees the prolonged denial of her right to be released on bail despite her age and poor health as an attempt to harm the Church in India. He wrote in his blog that ‘some political power somewhere has decided that she be the sacrificial goat to get at the Church’.
The charge of ‘human trafficking’ against Sister Concelia has since been changed to ‘irregular adoption’.
The federal Ministry of Women and Child Development has ordered inspections of all child care homes run by the Missionaries of Charity throughout India. A separate probe was ordered into foreign donations the Mission has received.
Tehmina Arora, director of ADF India says, ‘Nobody should be persecuted because of their faith. We are thankful that Sister Concelia has been granted bail after more than a year in prison pending trial. While others were released sooner, it seems that Sr Concelia was punished for symbolic reasons due to her faith and her position as a member of the Missionaries of Charity.’
The case comes against a background of persecution of Christians in India, with more than 200 systematic mob attacks so far this year. The attacks, which rarely receive any police attention, usually take a similar form. A mob will arrive at a prayer meeting or Christian gathering, shout abuse and harass the Christians. Those in attendance, including women and children, are beaten up. Following this the pastors or priests are often arrested by the police under false allegations of forced conversions.
Although these charges are almost never pursued, ADF India says the effect is to restrict Christians’ freedom to practise their faith.
It adds that the tendency not to charge the perpetrators of the violence ‘shows the tacit understanding among the violent and the police, who obviously enjoy the patronage of leaders or local officials and politicians’.