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Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Missionaries of Charity case: Vadodara Court adjourns bail hearing of nuns, asks police to discuss, clarify use of sections

A woman named in the FIR as a “victim” of forceful conversion by the organisation, appeared before the court and filed an affidavit stating that she was "not forcefully converted" and that the police case has "caused damage to her image in the society" as her interfaith marriage was with "her will and consent".

Written by Aditi Raja | Vadodara |
Updated: December 30, 2021 4:18:46 am
The next date of hearing in the matter has been fixed for January 5. (File)

A Vadodara court on Wednes-day adjourned the hearing in the anticipatory bail of two nuns of the Missionaries of Charity, a Kolkata-based organisation founded by Mother Teresa, who were booked in Vadodara under the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, 2003 for allegedly “hurting Hindu religious sentiments” and “luring towards Christianity young girls” in the shelter home run by the organisation.

The Additional Sessions Judge RT Panchal of Vadodara directed the District Government Pleader (DGP), appearing for the Vadodara police, to “discuss and clarify” the use of Section 3 and 4 of the Act with the Advocate General of Gujarat, under which the case was booked, since the Gujarat High Court had stayed the said sections of the Act in August this year.

Vadodara DGP Anil Desai told The Indian Express, “The court asked us to discuss with Advocate General the scope of the stay order issued by the Gujarat High Court in regard with Section 3 and 4 of the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, 2003, in August. The HC has issued the stay order for the sections specified in the context of forceful conversion through interfaith marriage… The rest of the grounds of forceful conversion laid down in the section have not been stayed and so the police case is on sound ground.

We will discuss the applicability of the section in this case with the counsel of the government in the HC and file our reply before the court on the next hearing.” The next hearing is on December 31.

A woman named in the FIR as a “victim” of forceful conversion by the organisation filed an affidavit stating that she was “not forcefully converted” and that the police case has “caused damage to her image in the society” as her interfaith marriage was with “her will and consent”. The woman, in her affidavit, has also said that she had “not lived in the shelter but had joined as a volunteer” for a short time.

DGP Desai said, “The woman appeared before the court and filed her affidavit denying the police case but the investigation is ongoing…

Police have opposed the anticipatory bail on various grounds, including forced conversion of the woman as well as serving non-vegetarian food to the girls living in the shelter. Police also told the court that the organisation has forced the girls to read books of the Christian faith… that the girls are being forced to wear a holy cross pendant to lure them towards the religion…”

The FIR, lodged by the Makarpura police station on December 12, was based on a complaint by District Social Defence Officer Mayank Trivedi who visited the Home for Girls run by the Missionaries of Charity along with the chairman of the Child Welfare Committee of the district on December 9.

The FIR states, “The 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 storerooms…, in order to compel them to read… It is an attempted crime to force religious conversion…”

Officials said that according to the complaint by the Child Welfare Committee, the organisation had forced a girl of Hindu origin to marry into a Christian family as per Christian traditions. The complaint also alleges that the girls living in the shelter home are also served non-vegetarian food, despite being Hindus.

The institution has been booked under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) Sections for deliberate and malicious acts to outrage feelings of any class by insulting its religious beliefs [295(A)], deliberately uttering words to wound the religious feelings of a person (298) as well as the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, 2003, which originally provided for ‘Prohibition of forcible conversion’ (Section 3) and the punishment for forcible conversion with a term of three years imprisonment and a fine of Rs 50,000 and in case of a minor being the “victim of forceful conversion”, imprisonment of four years and a fine of up to Rs 1 lakh (Section 4). The amended law was brought into effect on June 15 this year, which includes conversion for inter faith marriage as a ‘forceful conversion’.

On August 20 this year, the division bench of Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice Biren Vaishnav, hearing two petitions opposing the Act, had stayed the operation of sections 3, 4, 4A, 4B, 4C, 5, 6, and 6A.

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