FOUR CHRISTIAN women, including two nuns, were verbally harassed and forced off a train in BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh by Railway personnel and some fellow passengers identified as ABVP workers who falsely accused them of engaging in forced religious conversion.
The incident, which occurred at Jhansi station on March 19, was brought to light in a video that showed the women being heckled, prompting a wave of outrage across Kerala from where the nuns are — and an assurance from Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
Addressing a rally in Kerala’s Kanjirappally, which has a sizeable Christian population and where former Union minister K J Alphons is the BJP candidate in the Assembly polls on April 6, Shah said his party’s “government in Uttar Pradesh will ensure that the culprits…will be brought to justice”.
The assurance came on a day when the Chief Minister of Kerala’s Left government, Pinarayi Vijayan, sent a letter to Shah demanding action against “all groups and individuals who disrupt and impair the freedom of individual rights guaranteed by the Constitution”.
In UP, IG (Railways) Satyendra Kumar Singh said the SP (Lucknow) of Government Railway Police (GRP), who holds charge of Jhansi, has been directed to conduct a “thorough investigation”. Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Awanish Kumar Awasthi said the state government is “awaiting a detailed probe report”.
R D Bajpai, Executive Director, Railway Board, said the complaint received was “on suspicion of human trafficking”. “After the probe, we found that there was no case of human trafficking. They were immediately released,” he said.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Father Jacob G Palackappilly, spokesperson of the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Conference, said: “Every year during the Holy Week or days closer to Christian festivals, incidents like this happen. We feel the Government at the Centre does not have any regard for the Christian community.”
He said: “Article 19(4) of the Constitution provides every Indian citizen the right to move freely inside the country. The Constitution also guarantees the right to wear what we want. We would like to ask Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath — if he can move around in the country in saffron robes, why can’t religious personalities of other religions do the same in their customary attire?”
ABVP spokesperson Rahul Chaudhary said the workers were not acting “at the behest” of the organisation. “The youth did what they personally thought was the best thing to do at that moment following their conversations with the women,” he said.
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
Officials said the two nuns and two 19-year-old postulants — those seeking admission to a religious order — of the Sacred Hearts Congregation of Delhi Province had boarded the Haridwar-Puri Kalinga Utkal Express in the national capital last Friday but were forced to get off at Jhansi at 8 pm.
Sister Usha Maria of the Congregation said the postulants were returning home to Rourkela accompanied by the nuns after finishing their course in Delhi. “A group of male co-passengers who were already in the train when it reached Delhi started questioning the women about their destination and identity. They started accusing the nuns of taking the girls for conversion. They complained to Railway police in Jhansi and forced them to get off the train,” she said.
“(The women) were kept in the GRP station till 11 pm when authorities from the local St Jude’s Shrine arranged for their overnight stay. The next day, they took the train to Odisha,” she said. Sister Maria declined to name the four women.
According to sources, calls were made to the parents of the two postulants from the station. “The parents said the girls were adults and had every right to do what they wanted,” they said.
The video clip shows the Railway personnel and some unidentified men questioning the nuns inside the coach, and asking a postulant for her Aadhaar card. It shows her handing over the ID and responding that they were “already Christians” and that they were “preparing to become nuns”. “My aim is to become a good sister,” says the postulant in the video.
But a male voice is heard saying: “Dharam parivartan kara rahe hain yeh log (These people are engaged in religious conversion).” Another male voice is heard saying: “Hum log bhi Hindu samaj se kaam karte hain…Hindu sanstha se kaam karte hai (We are also working for the Hindu society… We work for a Hindu organisation).”
Naim Khan Mansoori, GRP Circle Officer (Jhansi), said the complainants were “members of the ABVP who were returning from a training camp in Rishikesh to Jhansi”. “They suspected that the two nuns were taking the other two women for conversion because they were talking to each other. They called the helpline number and informed RPF (Railway Protection Force), which informed the GRP,” he said. The RPF comes under the Central Government.
“One Ajay Shankar Tewari, a resident of Jhansi, and a co-passenger, gave the complaint in writing after the train reached the station. We found that the women with the nuns had baptism certificates from 2003. It was proved that they were Christians by birth and that there was no conversion,” Mansoori said.
Asked if the police would take action against Tewari for making a false complaint, he said: “The women did not give any written complaint. If they do, we will take action.”
According to Tewari’s written complaint, he was not travelling in the same coach as the women but came across them while “passing by”. It also states that he called the Railway helpline and alerted a local “Hindu neta”, Anchal Arjariya, who informed the GRP and RPF in Jhansi.
Arjariya’s social media profile describes him as an office-bearer of VHP and Hindu Jagran Manch, and a member of the Gau Rakshan Samiti.
Several sections in the Railway Act deal with the possible removal of passengers from a train, but mainly for issues such as non-payment of fare or creating nuisance.
Asked about the Jhansi case, RPF D-G Arun Kumar said: “By law it is legal, as any person can inform the police in order to prevent any cognizable offence. The offence the complaint pertained to is punishable by 10 years of imprisonment. It is the duty of the police to act. Both GRP and RPF went inside the train, thereafter the DSP of GRP probed the matter and dealt with it.” —(With Liz Mathew & Vishnu Varma)
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines
- The Indian Express website has been rated GREEN for its credibility and trustworthiness by Newsguard, a global service that rates news sources for their journalistic standards.