The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India has appealed to the federal and Madhya Pradesh governments to stop “the age-old bogey of conversion.”
In a May 31 press statement, the bishops’ conference said it is deeply saddened at the recent happenings in the state of Madhya Pradesh and particularly in the Catholic Diocese of Jabalpur.”
The appeal was made after Bishop Gerald Almeida of Jabalpur and Sister Ligy Joseph filed for anticipatory bail against their possible arrest in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.
The two were named in a case under the state’s stringent anti-conversion law.
The bishop and the nun, who is a member of the Congregation of Mother Carmel, were accused of violating the anti-conversion law in a police complaint by Priyank Kanoongo, chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, who led the team that raided the three institutions.
Kanoongo, who has headed the commission since October 2018, has accused Bishop Almeida, chairman of the orphanage, and Sister Joseph of forcing three Hindu children in the orphanage to convert to Christianity.
The diocesan officials have termed the case as a blatant lie and said the orphanage has helped destitute orphans found on railway platforms since 2005.
They have challenged Kanoongo, a native of Madhya Pradesh, to prove the allegation with “one credible case” rather than misusing one’s official position.
The diocese bemoans that such false cases will harm poor children who have no other place to stay or study.
The case against the bishop and the nun was slated for hearing in the last week of May, but it was postponed after the investigation officer failed to submit the records of the case.
The Asha Kiran Child Care Institute orphanage, which houses 47 children, has appealed the Katni district collector to conduct an impartial probe.
The Catholic bishops said the state machinery has been targeting the Diocese of Jabalpur.
The first incident was on March 2 when members of the state Commission of Child Rights and the commission’s district head together with members of the police force visited the St.Joseph Boys and Girls Boarding in Ghoreghat.
The following day, the same team visited the JDES Boys and Girls Boarding at Junwani and the third incident occurred on May 29 at Asha Kiran Child Care Institute, Jhinjhari, Katni.
The bishops said, “What is common in all three incidents is that the officials entered the premises without prior permission, searched the premises, took away some files, and questioned the children if they were forced to go to church and if they were forced to read the Bible.”
The bishops’ conference points out that although the three boarding and hostels “cooperate wholeheartedly in complying with all legal and government requirements,” the teams that visited them sought to unnecessarily harass the management and the children.
“They tried to make false allegations against the management and show how the children are getting converted to Christianity,” read the statement.
Madhya Pradesh has been ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) since 2003, except for 16 months of the Congress rule.
The BJP also heads the federal coalition government.