Indian authorities investigate Mother Teresa charity over claims of converting orphan girls

Catholic nuns from the order of the Missionaries of Charity gather under a picture of Mother Teresa during the tenth anniversary of her death in Kolkata, India, in this September 5, 2007, file photo.
Catholic nuns from the order of the Missionaries of Charity gather under a picture of Mother Teresa during the tenth anniversary of her death in Kolkata, India, in this September 5, 2007, file photo. | Reuters/Jayanta Shaw/Files

Amid rising Christian persecution in India, police in the western state of Gujarat are investigating Mother Teresa’s charity, which runs orphanages and schools for abandoned children, after officials filed a police complaint under the state’s anti-conversion law alleging the nuns are “forcibly” converting girls.

Police have filed a case against the Missionaries of Charity, which was founded by Mother Teresa, under the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act of 2003 for allegedly “hurting Hindu religious sentiments” and “luring" young girls "toward Christianity" in a shelter home it runs in Vadodara city, The Indian Express reported.

The police complaint says District Social Defense Officer Mayank Trivedi and the Chairman of the Child Welfare Committee of the district visited the Catholic charity’s Home for Girls in Makarpura area on Dec. 9 and found that girls were being “forced” to read the Bible and pray with the intention of “steering them into Christianity,” the newspaper said.

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“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,” reads the complaint.

A spokesperson from the charity was quoted as saying, “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.”

While Christians make up only 2.3% of India’s population and Hindus comprise about 80%, the country’s radical Hindu nationalists have been carrying out attacks on Christians under the pretext of punishing the minority for allegedly using monetary rewards to convert Hindus to Christianity.

Several Indian states, including Gujarat, have passed “anti-conversion” laws, which presume that Christians “force” or give financial benefits to Hindus to lure them into converting to Christianity. While some of these laws have been in place for decades, no Christian has been convicted of “forcibly” converting anyone to Christianity. These laws, however, allow Hindu nationalist groups to make false charges against Christians and launch attacks on them under the pretext of the alleged forced conversion.

India ranks as the 10th worst country globally when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA’s 2021 World Watch List.

The group warns that since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party took power in 2014, persecution against Christians and other religious minorities has increased.

In 2017, more than 100 members of the U.S. Congress wrote a letter to India’s interior minister, urging him to allow U.S.-based Christian child sponsorship organization Compassion International, which was forced to close operations in India due to allegations that it was funding religious conversions, to continue its work in that country. The Colorado-based charity said at the time that the decision impacted nearly 147,000 babies, children and young adults registered in its child development programs, as well as 127 staff.

Compassion International executives denied the allegation and said they were not given a chance to rebut the government’s claims, according to The New York Times.

Open Doors USA reports that “Hindu radicals often attack Christians with little to no consequences.”

“Hindu extremists believe that all Indians should be Hindus and that the country should be rid of Christianity and Islam,” an Open Doors fact sheet on India explains. “They use extensive violence to achieve this goal, particularly targeting Christians from a Hindu background. Christians are accused of following a ‘foreign faith’ and blamed for bad luck in their communities.”

Human rights groups in India said in October they had documented over 300 incidents of Christian persecution in just the first nine months of 2021, warning that this year might be the worst in terms of the number of such incidents in the country’s history.

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