Indian police were probing a charity started by Mother Teresa and raided and orphanage in another state in the latest example of growing pressure on Christians under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government.
Authorities in the western state of Gujarat said they were investigating whether the Missionaries of Charity forced girls in its shelter home there to wear a cross and read the Bible.
Modi’s home state is one of several in Hindu-majority India where vaguely worded rules against “forceful conversion” have been put in place, or more strictly enforced, in recent years.
District social officer Mayank Trivedi told AFP that his complaint to the police was based on a report by child welfare authorities and other district officials.
According to the complaint, 13 Bibles were found in the library of the institute and girls staying there were forced to read the religious text.
The Missionaries of Charity, founded in 1950 by the late Mother Teresa — a Roman Catholic nun who lived and worked in Kolkata for most of her life and won the Nobel Peace Prize — denied the allegations.
In a statement, the congregation said all the 24 girls in the shelter “live with us and follow our way of living.”
“We have not converted anyone or forced anyone to marry into Christian faith as is being alleged,” added the statement.
In Madhya Pradesh state, authorities raided an orphanage on complaints that children were fed beef and made to read the Bible.
A complaint received by National Commission for Protection of Child Rights sought a police investigation into the complaint against the St. Francis Sevadham (charity home) orphanage in Sagar district.
The raid came after two siblings living in the charity home lodged a complaint that they were allegedly forced to eat beef and read the Bible.
The father of the children also said that he was not allowed to meet his children. “I went to meet my children many times, but they did not allow me to meet them,” he said.
He said the when he was able to meet the children, they told him that they were “forced to eat cow meat and beaten up for refusing to do so.”
Father Shinto Varghese, director of St. Francis Sevadham orphanage, said the charges were “trumped up.”
The priest said beef is not even available in the state and only chicken is served once a week and “other nutritious substitutes for vegetarians.”
Father Varghese also said that scriptures of all faiths are placed in the prayer room and that no one was forced to read the Bible as claimed.
The priest said the children who filed the complaint were reportedly pressured by their estranged father. The children were living in the staff quarters with their mother who works as a kitchen staff in the orphanage.
Authorities raided the orphanage on December 10 and searched the premises, rummaging through the children’s belongings.
Father Varghese, who had taken over as director of the orphanage only a few months ago, said the real issue is the 277-acre land that was leased to the orphanage in 1875 for a period of 99 years.
He said the state government now wants to take the land.
Activists say that religious minorities in India have faced increased levels of discrimination and violence since Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014.
In 2020, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom listed India as a “country of particular concern” for the first time since 2004.
Modi’s government rejects having a radical “Hindutva” (Hindu hegemony) agenda and insists that people of all religions have equal rights.
Activists say there have been more than 300 anti-Christian incidents this year alone.
Last week, a Hindu mob of 200 to 300 people barged into a Christian school in Madhya Pradesh while students were taking their exams and pelted stones at the building, the school’s principal said.
“We moved the children from the auditorium to another wing of the school. We kept them on the first floor and gave them extra time to finish the exam. But the students couldn’t write, they were crying and shivering,” Brother Anthony Tynumkal, principal of St Joseph School, told AFP. – with a report from Agence France Presse