Bishop Gerald Almeida and Sister Liji were booked under anti-conversion law after a raid on a diocesan-run orphanage
Activists and members representing the Christian community display placards as they take part in a peaceful protest rally against what they claim is an increase in hostility, hate, and violence against Christians in various states of the country, in New Delhi on Feb. 19. (Photo: AFP/ UCAN files)
The top court in a central Indian state has granted anticipatory bail to a Catholic bishop and a nun charged with an attempt to convert destitute children to Christianity.
“We are happy that the court has granted bail to our bishop and the sister,” said Father Thankachan Jose, who has been closely involved in the criminal case.
He said the case was filed by Priyank Kanoongo, chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights.
It accused the bishop and the nun of trying to convert destitute children after inviting and admitting them to a Church-run orphanage.
Kanoongo filed the complaint on May 30 after a surprise raid at Asha Kiran (Ray of Hope) Children’s Care Institute under the Jabalpur diocese.
The orphanage takes care of 47 destitute children, who used to live on railway platforms in various parts of the country.
After the May 29 raid, Kanoongo and his team accused the management of attempting to convert Hindu destitute children to Christianity, and willfully neglecting them in the orphanage.
Madhya Pradesh, ruled by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, has enacted a sweeping anti-conversion law -- the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2021. It criminalizes conversion from one religion to another by use of misrepresentation, force, and undue influence. Violators face a prison term of up to 10 years.
Despite opposition from the attorneys of the state government, the high court refused to accept the criminal conversion charge against the bishop and nun.
The law says complaints against a conversion will have to be registered by either the person who was converted or family members or relatives.
In this case, "Kanoongo has no right to file a complaint and the police have no right to charge a case based on such a complaint,” Father Jose told UCA News on June 22.
However, the government is free to probe other charges of willful neglect of children filed under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, the priest said.
On March 22, a case of fraud was registered against Bishop Almeida in Dindori, a tribal-dominated district in the state.
But the court has restrained police from taking any coercive action as the case is pending in the high court.
Christians make up a mere 0.29 percent of the more than 72 million population in Madhya Pradesh and over 80 percent of them are Hindus.
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