Indian nun charged with attempted conversion

A corruption-fighting Catholic nun in the eastern Indian state of Bihar is facing charges of forcibly converting a Hindu nurse whom she had earlier assisted.

Notre Dame Sr Prema Devaraj, who is also a medical doctor, also is accused of assaulting and robbing the nurse after she refused to embrace Christianity, UCA News reports.

Fearing police action, the nun has temporarily moved out of her convent in Raxaul, a town in East Champaran district, 1,030 km east of New Delhi.

Fr Christ Das, a priest of Bettiah diocese who works in the area, told UCA News that the charges against Sr Devaraj are the result of her campaign to fight corruption in the government's Mother and Child Security Scheme.

The program is supposed to benefit poor, pregnant village women by providing them free medical attention, ensuring access to nutritious food and providing necessary vaccinations for their newborns.

Some women, however, say the scheme is a farce. "We get nothing," Bhagmati Kunwar told UCA News. The Hindu woman from a village near Raxaul said the government makes nurses collect 5 rupees ($AUD0.15) for each vaccination.

She added that the nurses have the support of local politicians and henchmen. "So the poor like us don't dare oppose them." But they did keep Sr Devaraj informed about the corruption.

Before she went into hiding, Sr Devaraj told UCA News that state and district authorities had nominated her to various committees that monitor health schemes. She reported on corruption to top government officials.

As a result, some people "were after my blood," she said, adding that her opponents finally cornered her in the last week of July with false charges.

The charges are linked to a birth delivery that government nurse Meena Thapa performed 19 July at an unauthorised and ill-equipped clinic in a village. The newborn boy's condition began to deteriorate, and he was rushed to a Protestant hospital in Raxaul, where he succumbed to infection.

The baby's parents lodged a police case against Thapa for negligence. According to accounts provided by the nurse and Sister Devaraj, Thapa approached the nun seeking her mediation with the baby's parents. The nurse faced a jail term and dismissal from her job over the charge against her.

After Sister Devaraj intervened, Thapa paid for expenses incurred by the baby's parents and they withdrew the case. Later, however, Thapa accused the nun of instigating the child's parents to file the case. Thapa told UCA News there were no lapses on her part in the delivery.

Anil Gupta, a local Hindu social worker, claims the issue rattled the nurse. "But the moment she felt safe, she and her collaborators ganged up to bridle the nun." According to him, the health-care workers feared their corruption could not continue as long as the nun remained in the village with the poor.

"So they cooked up the story of robbing and forcing Thapa to become a Christian," Mr Gupta said.

Thapa insists her charges against the nun are true. However, she says she is now reluctant to pursue the case because local officials are "gradually tilting toward the nun and I would be left alone in the lurch." She also said the "Christian priests and nuns are very powerful."

Nun Faces Conversion Charges After Fighting Corruption In Bihar (UCAN, 17/8/06)

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18 Aug 2006