Catholic nun detained in India following complaints of converting students to Christianity

Christians hold candles during a vigil to show solidarity with the nun who was raped during an armed assault on a convent school, in New Delhi March 16, 2015. | Reuters/Anindito Mukherjee

A Catholic nun has been detained in India last week after Hindu nationalists accused her of converting four girls to Christianity.

Sister Bina Joseph and the four girls were reportedly traveling on a train when they were detained by the railway police at the Satna station on June 13. According to UCA News, the girls and the nun were traveling from Jharkhand to study at a church-run school in Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh state.

Joseph had been accused of taking the tribal girls to be converted to Christianity, which is prohibited under state law.

In Madhya Pradesh, conversion away from Hinduism that is done through force, allurement, appeasement or fraud can be punished with jail time or a fine. The state, which is over 90 percent Hindu and less than one percent Christian, is ruled by the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The BJP, which also controls the national government, is said to have strong links to the militant Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Groups affiliated with the RSS were allegedly involved in the detention of the nun and the girls who were accompanying her to Bhopal.

"I strongly condemn this harassment by rogue elements who profess their political allegiance-alliance with the ruling party," Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal told Crux.

He contended that the nun's detention was "absolutely wrong," and violated her rights as a citizen of India.

"The Catholic nun was travelling in a public transport, and was subjected to harassment, intimidation and humiliation by the police," the archbishop said.

"This behaviour of the police is strongly condemned, the minority community, is being targeted by fringe elements of the ruling party and in any devious manner, the 'conversion' allegations are levied against the minority Christian community, even in the case of travelling, as in this case," he added.

Joseph, who belongs to the Carmelite Sisters of St. Teresa congregation, said that she and the girls were interrogated and held for 12 hours before the authorities released them around midnight the next day.

According to Crux, one of the girls was turned over to a child services agency because the authorities believed that she was a minor. Joseph, however, contended that all four girls were over the age of 20.

Joseph's arrest came after authorities in Madhya Pradesh detained a group of 60 Christian children accompanied by nine chaperones to a Bible camp in the state on May 21. The chaperones were charged with trying to convert Hindu children to Christianity, but the parents argued that the children were already Christians.

However, the authorities dismissed the parents' explanation, saying they did not follow the legal process to officially change their religion to Christianity.

Shibu Thomas, founder of Persecution Relief, said that nearly 80 similar incidents have taken place in Madhya Pradesh alone. He also noted that violence against Christians are on the rise throughout India and more than 300 incidents of attacks have been reported this year.