Two nuns were forced to change out of their religious habits into civilian clothes midway through a rail journey on March 19 to protect themselves and two postulants with them from possible attacks by right-wing Hindu activists. The group were traveling from Delhi to Rourkela in Odisha. The nuns were in their habit, while the girls were in civilian dress. The postulants, who had joined the Sacred Hearts Congregation of the Delhi Province recently, were going home for Easter holidays and the nuns were accompanying them for safety.
According to a press release from the Kerala-based Syro-Malabar Church Media Commission, the group had reached Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh, at around 7:30 pm when a few Bajrang Dal activists, who were returning from a pilgrimage, abused, harassed them and caused trouble said the press release issued by Father Jerry Joseph (Alex) Onampally, the commission secretary.
The Hindu radicals’ prime allegation was that the nuns were taking the postulants for religious conversion. The youths then began causing a commotion. They accused the nuns of violating the state’s anti-conversion law as the train reached Jhansi station.
The nuns were taken into custody by the police after they arrived at the Jhansi railway station, even though they had valid documents. The nuns and the postulants were quizzed for five hours and released after officials from Jhansi Diocese intervened by contacting senior police officials. The group was allowed to continue their journey the next day on another train with a police escort as they feared retaliation from the right-wing Hindu activists. The nuns are said to have had to change out of their religious habits and put on civilian clothes in order to avoid the attention of Hindu extremists.
The Syro Malabar Church stated that it suspects a premeditated attack, considering that around 150 Bajrang Dal activists had assembled at the railway station at short notice.
It cited the nuns’ experience in Jhansi as the latest example of how the social conditions in India are becoming intolerant of other religions.
Meanwhile the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council (KCBC) has demanded action from the Kerala Government, National Women’s Commission and Human Rights Commission. The KCBC has also demanded that the Indian Railways, Central Government and the Uttar Pradesh government look into the incident and take action against the culprits. Both Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, currently ruled by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, have enacted stringent anti-conversion laws.