Reproduced with permission of United Catholic Asian News (UCAN)

HYDERABAD, India, June 28, 2006 (UCAN)—Indian police detained four Missionaries of Charity (MC) nuns on charges of attempting to convert people when the nuns visited a government-run hospital in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.

The nuns were on a regular visit to Ruia hospital in Tirupati town, a popular Hindu pilgrimage center, 2,060 kilometers south of New Delhi.

  Police detained the nuns in the hospital on the evening ofÂJune 25Âand later took them to a police station, keeping them there until 10:30 p.m. Christian leaders say police acted at the request of a fanatic Hindu group.

Sister Rosaria, regional superior of the congregation, which Blessed Teresa of Kolkata founded, told UCA News the nuns have been visiting the hospital regularly for the past 20 years and provide medicine to poor patients who cannot afford it.

On June 25 , however, about 50 people, some with video cameras, approached the four nuns and accused them of trying to convert patients, Sister Rosaria said. The crowd swelled to about 300, and the nuns were kept in the hospital until around 8.30 p.m., after which they were taken to a police station.

Sister Maria, another local MC nun, said the Hindu activists probably “have not understood who we are and what we do.”

Tirupati is in the territory of Cuddapah diocese, whose head, Bishop Doraboina Moses Prakasam, was away in Germany at the time of the incident. A diocesan source said Bishop Prakasam had contacted Archbishop Marampudi Joji of Hyderabad for help with the matter. Hyderabad, 600 kilometers north of Tirupati, is the state capital.

Archbishop Joji, who heads the Catholic Church in the state, termed the incident a “violation of human rights” and an “infringement on the nuns’ religious freedom.” At a press conference on June 26, the archbishop said the police had also flouted a Supreme Court directive that women should not be taken into custody between sunset and sunrise.

G. Alfred, executive secretary of Andhra Pradesh Christian Federation, told the press conference that the incident was part of increasing harassment of Christians by fanatic Hindu groups.

Alfred later told UCA News that activists of Hindu Dharma Parirakshana Samithi (forum for protecting the Hindu religion) engineered the crowd at the hospital. He said some of them verbally abused the nuns and even threatened to make the nuns wear saffron clothes like Hindu religious personnel do.

The Christian federation demanded that the government probe the incident and act against those who took the nuns to the police station. It also said Christian groups “cannot be mute spectators” to such abuses and threatened to launch a statewide stir if the government failed to act.

Father Antoniraj Thumma, another official of the federation, told UCA News a delegation of Christian leaders would soon meet Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy to press for government action. The Catholic priest said the federation would alsoÂtake up the matter with the federal Minorities Commission as well as with the federal Women’s Commission.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Association of Hyderabad, which had a meeting June 26, expressed shock at the incident and demanded immediate action against the violators, its general secretary, James Sylvester, told UCA News.

  See related coverage:

Cardinal Varkey Says “Forced Conversion” Laws Really About Stopping All Conversions

Indian Church Leaders Respond to Anti-Christian Violence and “Forced Conversion Laws”