Two nuns from the Congregation of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart were travelling by train with two postulants on holiday from their Delhi convent to Rouekela (Odisha) on March 19.
At the Jhansi station, a mob of 150 right-wing extremists from the Hindu Vahini group compelled them off the train, accusing the Sisters of taking the two young women to convert them. The nuns called their congregation in Delhi and informed them about the incident on the train.
Even though the two young women showed their identity number and other proof that they were Christian, the extremists shouted Jaya Śrī Rāma a Hindu nationalist slogan, and harassed the four women. At the Jhansi station, the railway police took them off the train.
Despite the nuns demanding female police officers, they were forced to march to the police station with extremists shouting obscenities and were not allowed to use their phones.
When the head of the congregation was told that the train had left without the nuns, she contacted the Bishop’s House in Jhansi; priests along with a senior police officer arrived on the scene and after verification confirmed that they were innocent.
The nuns were taken to the Bishop’s House and the next day they left in civilian clothes. After their horrific ordeal, the four women had to share two seats reserved for the disabled and had to continue their 24-hour journey in an overcrowded compartment.
“This is outrageous and must be strongly condemned,” said Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), speaking to AsiaNews.
“Now even freedom to travel is being monitored by extremists, who keep a watch on public transport. Why are [members of]the minority Christian community treated as second-class citizens in secular India?”
The Syro-Malabar Church also released a harsh condemnation of the incident in a note by Fr Alex Onampally, secretary of its Media Commission. For the latter, this was a “planned attempt to harass and mistreat the nuns”, a display of intolerance towards other religions. He wants the culprits punished.
The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church condemned the planned attempt to harass and abuse the nuns. In a statement, the Church noted that the two Sisters were on a holiday, accompanying the two 19-year-old postulants (novices) to Rourkela.
“During the journey, the two postulants were dressed in plain clothes and the other two in nuns’ habits,” reads the statement. “When they returned from Delhi earlier in the afternoon and reached Jhansi around 7.30 pm (of 19 March), some Bajrang Dal activists, who were returning from a pilgrimage, abused and harassed them.
“Their main allegation was that the two postulants had been taken by the Sisters to convert them to Christianity. They did not accept the postulants’ words that they were born Christian.”
The nuns were then taken into police custody at Jhansi train station “when Bajrang Dal activists misinformed the police that the nuns were taking them to convert.
Hundreds of Bajrang Dal activists created an atmosphere of terror by shouting slogans outside as the nuns entered the police station.
“The nuns were released around 11.30 pm after a high-ranking police officer verified the matter. They were then transferred to the Jhansi Bishop’s House and the next day the Provincial Superior arrived from Delhi to facilitate the journey.”
The statement read further: “The next day, the four were accommodated in two seats in a coach for the disabled with Railway Police Protection and made the trip on the same train, completing the 24-hour journey with great difficulty.
“It is suspected that there was a conspiracy behind the arrival of about 150 people at the station in a short period of time to attack the nuns. The experience of the four nuns in Jhansi is just the latest example of how social conditions in India are becoming intolerant for other religions.
“Tens of thousands of priests and nuns are engaged in selfless service in the northern states. The Syro-Malabar Church strongly condemns these violent acts against Christians who are citizens of the country and demands that the State government and the central government punish the culprits by taking severe punitive measures.”