MUMBAI, India – A group of Missionaries of Charity were evicted from a facility in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, the latest move against the religious order founded by St. Mother Teresa.
The religious sisters ran a children’s home in Kanpur Cantonment but were evicted by India’s Defense Department on Jan. 3.
The cantonments of India are former British military installations which often now are large urban areas – Kanpur Cantonment has a population of over 100,000 people – but are still under the jurisdiction of India’s military.
The defense department claimed the children’s home was on land with a 90-year lease that expired in 2019. In addition, they are threatening the sisters with a fine of over $250,000.
“The citizens of Kanpur were outraged at this eviction and takeover, but remained mute spectators as the sisters had already decided to surrender the property, probably in the hope that by doing so the existing demand of [the fine] would be waived,” said a statement from the Indian Catholic Forum.
“It certainly doesn’t paint the army or DEO [the office in charge of the cantonments] in a good light. Did it deliberately choose a soft target knowing that it did not have the stomach for a fight? This selective targeting also seems to have the malodor of a communal bias. Is this how the nation repays the true desh bhakts, those who serve the neediest of society without expecting anything in return? It is shameful,” the organization added.
The move is just the latest in a series of actions the Indian government has taken against the Missionaries of Charity, which Mother Teresa founded in 1950 in Calcutta, now known as Kolkata, to serve the poorest of the poor. She died in 1997 and was declared a saint in 2016 by Pope Francis.
At Christmas, the government banned the order from accepting any overseas funds, jeopardizing its operations across the country. The order runs several facilities across the country, including medical centers, homes for unwed mothers, and schools.
Earlier in December, officials in the state of Gujarat accused it of forcing Hindu girls to perform Christian acts of worship, which the order denied.
In 2018, the Missionaries of Charity were accused of being involved in a kidnapping ring involving their orphanages.
Critics say the central government is targeting the Catholic religious sisters to appease its Hindu nationalist base. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party – the BJP – is associated with the country’s largest Hindu nationalist organization, and has been accused of targeting religious minorities, claiming they try to “forcibly convert” low-caste Hindus.
“The eviction of the Missionaries of Charity from the Kanpur Cantonment speaks of a mounting sense of insensitivity from the side of the Administration and distressing measure of helplessness on the side of minority communities in India,” said Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil, the archbishop emeritus of Guwahati. “There seems to be determined effort to tarnish the image of this ‘most admired group’ in the Christian community.”
The archbishop said harassment of minorities and marginal groups in India has been “normalized.”
“Hate speeches against weaker groups echo from end to end of the nation under a majoritarian regime. Inaction on the part of authorities raise questions when lynch gangs assault harmless peasant travelers, disturb Christmas gathering, and damage churches and mosques,” Menamparampil continued.
The archbishop added that Christians in India – who make up just 2.3 percent of the population – were hopeful that an October 2021 meeting between Pope Francis and Modi at the Vatican was a sign that the government would soften its “aggressive postures” on religious minorities in the country. During the meeting, the prime minister invited the pontiff to visit India.
“The other day Modi had said in Dehra Dun that he believed in the ‘empowering of all people.’ That was what Mother Teresa’s sisters had been doing with the most humiliated and the helpless. Elsewhere he said, democracy is not only for the people, but ‘with’ the people. That is what Christian missionaries have always been. At Biden’s Summit on Democracy, Modi affirmed his firm faith in ‘inclusion,’ and ‘responsive grievance redressal.’ It is our hope these messages will be translated into life,” said Menamparampil.
“When the second COVID wave was at its heights, people longed for nothing but compassion. We needed compassionate people who would reach out to the neediest. That is what the Missionaries of Charity and Christian missionaries have always done. May there be an evident recognition of it!”