Updated: March 24, 2021 9:50:07 pm
Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Wednesday assured strong action against those who allegedly harassed nuns during their train journey via Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh.
Two nuns and two postulants of the Sacred Hearts Congregation of Delhi Province were forced to get off a train by the Railway police in Jhansi after a group of men in the train, who claimed to be working for the “Hindu samaaj”, suspected that the girls were being taken for forceful conversion– an accusation that later proved to be false.
Addressing a rally in Kerala, Shah said, “I want to assure the people of Kerala that the culprits behind this incident will be brought to justice at the earliest”.
Earlier in the day, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan sought Shah’s intervention in the incident of four Christian women harassed purportedly by Bajrang Dal activists in a train in Jhansi last week.
Harassment of nuns in UP is shocking. Indian citizens’ fundamental rights have been violated. @BajrangdalOrg & @Uppolice have tarnished India’s image and our ancient tradition of religious tolerance. Wrote to @HMOIndia requesting intervention, so that authorities take action. pic.twitter.com/H9IMAupesd
— Pinarayi Vijayan (@vijayanpinarayi) March 24, 2021
In a letter to Shah on Wednesday, Vijayan demanded strict action “on all groups and individuals who disrupt and impair the freedom of individual rights guaranteed by the Constitution”.
“You would agree with me that such incidents tarnish the nation and its ancient tradition of religious tolerance and practice. Such incidents require utmost condemnation by the Union Government,” Vijayan wrote.
In the letter, Vijayan has also drawn Shah’s attention to the fact that the group of four women who were “harassed and intimidated by around 150 Bajrang Dal activists”, were removed from the train in Jhansi at 11 PM without the presence of a woman police official.
The women were travelling from Delhi by the Haridwar-Puri Kalinga Utkal Express on Friday. The two 19-year-old postulants had joined the Sacred Hearts Congregation recently. The postulants were going back home on holiday in Raurkela accompanied by the nuns after finishing their course in Delhi.
They were made to get off the train when it reached Jhansi at around 8 PM and then kept in the Government Railway Police station there till 11 PM. The women were rescued by church officials from the local St Jude’s Shrine who arranged for their overnight stay in Jhansi, said Sister Usha Maria of the Congregation in Delhi. The women took the same train the next day to Odisha.
Sister Maria, who was not one of the four women but was dealing with the matter on behalf of the organisation from Delhi, said a group of male co-passengers who were already in the train when it reached Delhi started questioning the women about where they were going and what their identities were. “The group of men started accusing the sisters of taking the girls for conversion. The men complained to the Railway police in Jhansi and forced them to get off the train there,” she told The Indian Express.
In the presence of the police which came inside the coach in Jhansi, the girls were made to show their Aadhaar cards to establish their identities. “They were frightened. So when the police and the men asked them to show their Aadhaar cards, they did.”
She said that the women informed the Congregation officials in Delhi after trouble started in the train. “Thereafter we tried calling them but they were not allowed to receive calls. We could contact them only when they had reached the police station,” she said.
A video circulated on social media shows the women being questioned by the Railway Protection Force and others, and also being heckled by multiple male voices in the background, inside the train compartment. One of the postulants is seen saying that they were already Christians and that they were preparing to become nuns. “My aim is to become a good sister,” the postulant, who identified herself as Shweta to the police, says. One of the nuns tells the police and the group that these are educated girls who had joined the Congregation. “Dharam parivartan kara rahe hain yeh log”, one male voice is heard saying in the video.
In the video the girl takes out her Aadhaar card and hands it over to a man wearing a red shirt and khaki pants. He passes it on to someone, who is apparently shooting the video, to take a picture of the card.
When asked to get off the train, one of the sisters is seen asking them to first show her where the other two women had been taken earlier. To that she is told that they were on the platform. When she asks how they would proceed on their journey from there, one male voice is heard saying: “If you are proven right then we will arrange for your journey later.”
“Hum log bhi Hindu samaaj se kaam karte hain… Hindu sanstha se kaam karte hai,” another male voice says in the presence of the police. Sister Maria said that people kept chanting slogans in the station as well while the women were being taken to the GRP station there.
She refused to give out the names and contact details of the four women. “They are not here. They are on holiday. It is not possible to contact them,” she said.
Bajrang Dal spokesman Sohan Singh Solanki could not be reached despite repeated attempts.
According to sources, calls were made to the parents of the two postulants from the GRP station in Jhansi. “The parents said that the girls were adults and they had every right to do whatever they wanted. After that the matter was closed, and no FIR was lodged,” a source said.
Church officials including priests from the local St Jude’s Shrine reached the police station. The Congregation as well the church officials also brought the matter to the notice of senior police officers in Uttar Pradesh. Sister Maria said that the women took the train the next day. “A police constable accompanied them in the train,” she said.
“It was only after the intervention of Lucknow Inspector General of Police, the nuns and postulants were released from the police station around 11 PM in the night,” Vijayan wrote in his letter to Amit Shah.
When asked how bona fide ticket holders can be forcefully detrained upon suspicion of forceful religious conversion, a senior RPF officer in Delhi said: “By law any passenger can raise a complaint about a cognizable offence and based on that police can detrain,” he said.
North Central Railway Spokesman Ajeet Kumar Singh said that the whole matter was conducted by the Government Railway Police which is under the state government.
“Railway Protection Force jawans just accompanied the GRP jawans inside the train compartment. But they and the railways have no role in this. The complaint was received by the GRP, the decision to remove the passengers was also theirs. Law and order is a state subject,” Singh told The Indian Express. Asked how the women’s journey was arranged the next day, he said: “the GRP must have arranged it.”
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