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Church backs shelter nun

Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas in Ranchi on Thursday. (Manob Chowdhary)

Ranchi: Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) has condemned the alleged sale of babies from a Ranchi shelter, but criticised the state authorities and police for maligning all missionary institutions, particularly those run by the Missionaries of Charity, for what it suggested was an isolated incident.

"There is a deliberate attempt being made to thwart and undo all good things done by us (missionaries and churches) over decades in serving mankind," said CBCI general secretary Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas on Thursday, the first time the church has come out with a statement after an alleged racket in selling babies was unearthed on July 3.

Talking to newsmen at archbishop's house on Purulia Road, Mascarenhas said the church condemned the "whole incident" and was always open to any form of inquiry. But, he added, that it was wrong to paint the entire Missionaries of Charity or other missionary institutions with the same brush.

"None of our sisters can ever do such things," he said, referring to the alleged sale of four babies from Nirmal Hriday, the Missionaries of Charity-run shelter on Jail Road, for which police have arrested a senior nun, Sister Koshleniea, and employee Anima Indwar.

Mascarenhas, who came to Ranchi on Wednesday night, accused the police of highhandedness, saying church officials weren't allowed to meet Sister Koshleniea and that she had been coerced into giving a confession.

"The sister is being treated as if she is a criminal. She is a diabetic patient, suffering from varicose vein. She said she wasn't aware about her statement and told us she was made to sign a paper," Mascarenhas said and went on to add that the police made it difficult for the church to get a copy of the FIR against her.

"It has been eight days since the arrest, but we weren't given a copy of the FIR by police. We had to get it through court yesterday (Wednesday). Through court, our lawyer managed to meet her in jail yesterday," he said.

Mascarenhas also told a national news channel that the BJP-led government and its police in the state were "terrorising" nuns and children.

The selling of babies came to light after a couple from Uttar Pradesh approached the child welfare committee and accused Nirmal Hriday of charging Rs 1.2 lakh for a newborn boy, but then taking him back on the pretext of formalities. Indwar was the first to be arrested followed by the nun.

According to the bishop, this was an isolated case. "Anima was a worker there (at Nirmal Hriday) since 2002. We don't know under what circumstances she gave the baby for money. It shouldn't have happened. But, accusing the entire congregation of Mother Teresa is wrong," he said.

On statements of police and social welfare officials that two dozen more babies were unaccounted for, Mascarenhas said they had all records in place.

"Let a fair probe happen, the truth will come out. Whatever document the child welfare committee wanted was furnished. Every child is accounted for. In fact, we are horrified by the way a section of the media is maligning missionaries: some are saying 280 (missing children) and some even 400," he said and added, "I think the child welfare committee's role should be probed."

Mascarenhas also questioned the administration's role in forcefully vacating Shishu Bhavan, another Missionaries of Charity-shelter in Hinoo. "On June 23, an executive magistrate inspected the centre and certified it as 'excellent'," he said, showing a handwritten comment in the register. "Now suddenly, this centre is bad?"

The bishop accused the state government of divisive politics.

"A father has been arrested in Khunti in connection with a gang rape. As many as 14 missionaries have been arrested in Dumka (over conversion charges). And now, a nun is being targeted... We had demanded a CBI probe into the Khunti incident. But, the government is silent," he said.

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