Nun faces conversion charges in central India

A NUN IN INDIA WAS ARRESTED after she was charged under provisions of a new law that criminalizes religious conversion. Sister Bhagya (who uses only her first name) of the Sisters of the Destitute congregation and principal of Sacred Heart Convent High School in Khajuraho in the Chhatarpur district, Madhya Pradesh state, was charged Feb. 22 with trying to convert a former female staff member in her school.

The complainant, Ruby Singh, in her statement to police said that the nun had promised to double her salary if she would become a Christian. The nun had allegedly also assured her that her husband, who is unwell, would be cured if he too became a Christian and prayed to Jesus.

The new Freedom of Religion Act 2021 was enacted in Madhya Pradesh state last January—after repealing a more than five-decades-old anti-conversion law—and has provisions of jail terms of up to 10 years if the charges are upheld.

Sister Bhagya, however, was granted bail March 16 by the principal bench of Madhya Pradesh High Court, top court in the state, two weeks after a lower court turned down her bail request. She got out on bail on a personal bond of 10,000 rupees ($140), plus a guarantee of the same amount. She was also directed to cooperate with the police investigation.

Speaking with Aid to Church in Need (ACN), Sister Bhagya said: “This was the first time in my close to two decades of teaching that  I faced a situation where I could be arrested for a crime that I never even thought of.”

She continued: “I was interrogated by senior police officials and four teams from the education department after the news that I tried to convert her was spread on social media February 19. That was two days after the school wrote to a district official seeking protection for the staff and the institution after the complainant threatened to immolate herself and commit suicide in front of the school.”

Extremist Hindu groups protested in front of the police station, demanding registration of a First Information Report against her and her arrest. Under pressure, the police formally charged her, paving way for her arrest Feb. 22. The nun initially was scared: “I never had such an experience.” But soon she recovered from the shock, “thinking about the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ for no fault of his.” She soon began to spend more time in prayer, Bible reading and meditation, which helped her realize that “nothing will happen to me without the knowledge of our Lord,” Sister Bhagya added.

Sister Bhagya

“I only tried to help the complainant and her family, including offering free education to her two children,” the nun recalled. “However, I had removed her from the school as she was not qualified for teaching job and was not willing to do other jobs assigned to her from time to time,” the nun explained.

“When the news of my possible arrest reached the school, teachers with me began to sob and I had to console them rather than worrying for myself,” she added. “This incident has given me an exposure of another side of missionary life where you are persecuted for no fault of yours and treated as a criminal,” she said.

“I am well aware that the case is not yet over as I got only a temporary stay from my arrest,” she said.  The court has posted her case on April 7 for further hearing. “Now I am prepared to face any situation as God is with me and I believe no harm can come to me.”

The police in Madhya Pradesh, according to official figures, have invoked provisions of the new anti-conversion law against 22 Christians and 21 Muslims. Six cases are registered against Christians and 15 against Muslims.

—Saji Thomas