India's Ministry of Women and Child Development announced Monday that it has instructed states to inspect all childcare homes run by the Missionaries of Charity.
The move comes after several children were allegedly sold by an employee of Nirmal Hriday, a Missionaries of Charity home for unwed mothers in Jharkhand state.
Maneka Ghandi, women and child development minister, added July 16 that all childcare and adoption institutions must register with the Central Adoption Resource Authority within the month.
Earlier this month two women affiliated with the Missionaries of Charity, one a religious sister and one an employee, were arrested after a couple complained that they were sold a baby boy, who was then taken back by the shelter.
Anima Indwar, who had worked at the shelter as a sweeper since 2002, and Sister Konsalia, were arrested July 4 and 5 in Jharkhand. Another shelter employee is also under investigation.
Indwar admitted that she sold the children. In one deal, a couple from Uttar Pradesh adopted the child and the deal was finalized through the guard. She denied that Sister Konsalia was present during the transaction. She said the baby’s biological mother was involved in the exchange.
Police appear to have been alerted July 3 when a couple from Uttar Pradhesh complained to the Child Welfare Committee in Ranchi, capital of Jharkhand, that a baby boy they received after payment had been taken back.
Police say that a couple reportedly paid 120,000 Indian rupees ($1,760) to Indwar. The couple complained that Indwar took their money in exchange for a child, and that she later took the child back from them without returning the money.
The baby in question was born May 1 to a shelter resident, and was apparently given to the couple two weeks later. On July 1, Indwar reportedly asked the couple to return to the shelter with the baby for some “formalities.” She then took the child from his adoptive parents and did not give him back. The baby is now in state custody.
Sister Konsalia described her experience in a video.
“I came to know that a baby, delivered in May, was missing when the Child Welfare Committee came to check,” she said in a video. “We found out that the baby had been sold off by a staffer.”
Sister Konsalia has recounted her conversation with Indwar.
“When I initially asked the staffer about the baby, she did not want to tell me anything. It was only when I kept pressing for details that they told me the baby had been sold,” she said.
A small portion of the money had been given to the guard, while nine times that amount was given to “a sister.”
Sister Konsalia said that Indwar told her she did not take any money.
The nun said she informed authorities about the matter and said the baby should be brought back.
A police source said that Indwar provided to police a handwritten note from Sister Konsalia asking Indwar to take the blame on herself, Matters India reports.
Sister Konsalia's defenders, including the bishops of India, are asking whether she was an accomplice, or the victim of a coerced confession.
Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, Auxiliary Bishop of Ranchi, speaking to NDTV, charged that police are “treating the whole of Mother Teresa’s organization as a criminal gang.”
Bishop Mascarenhas, speaking in his role as the Secretary General of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, condemned the shelter staffer accused of selling the babies, but said the rule of law was not being followed in Sister Konsalia’s case.
“Nobody was allowed to meet Sister Konsalia in custody,” he said. “Her advocate could meet her on Wednesday, eight days after her arrest, only after we approached the court,” he said July 12, according to the Hindustan Times. “During the 10 minutes interaction that the advocate could have with her, she said she was forced by the police to give her statement.”
Mascarenhas had objected that the nun was being treated as a criminal. He said she is diabetic with varicose veins, and wasn’t aware of her statement.
Mascarenhas condemned the sale.
“It shouldn’t have happened. But, accusing the entire congregation of Mother Teresa is wrong,” he said July 12.
Babulal Marandi, former chief minister of Jharkhand, visited the shelter July 14 and interacted with the sisters, the news site Matters India reports. He alleged that the case had become a “media trial.” He said the Missionaries of Charity have served society for many years.
“The government should conduct a direct probe instead of issuing statements to the media,” he said.
However, police have said the accusations were filed on the basis of evidence, including confessions by the accused.
All four babies have been recovered by authorities. At the time of the arrests, there were a dozen pregnant women living at the shelter. They have now been transferred to a government-run home.
A spokesperson for the Kolkata-based Missionaries of Charity said that the order stopped dealing with child adoption in India in 2015, and did not take money for adoptions when it did assist in them. The order is conducting their own investigation about the case.
Members of opposition parties have accused India's ruling party, the Hindu-nationalist group the Bharatiya Janata Party, of harassing and persecuting the missionaries on the basis of unbelievable allegations.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has backed the Missionaries of Charity. She accused the BJP government of making “malicious attempts to malign” the charity and the name of Mother Theresa.
Rameshwar Oraon, the leader of Jharkhand Congress and a former police officer, said some police appeared to be taking part in the political controversy over the police action against the Missionaries of Charity.
The Jharkhand police have also called for a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into foreign funds received by Missionaries of Charity institutions. R.K. Mallick, the senior police officer, told NDTV that the recommendation was motivated by irregularities investigators detected.
The Albanian-born Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata in 1950. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, and canonized in 2016. There are now about 3,000 Missionaries of Charity sisters around the world.
In addition to the vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, members of the Missionaries of Charity take a fourth vow pledging “wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor.”