New Delhi (AsiaNews) In a less than candid operation, perhaps more publicity stunt than anything else, a British journalist denounced the poor training the Sisters of Mother Teresa have in caring for disabled children in one of their Indian homes.
AsiaNews interviewed some of the Missionaries of Charity who explained why, on rare occasions, they have to rely on extreme means. Understaffing is one reason; preventing children from hurting themselves is another.
Journalist Donal Macintyre went undercover in Daya Dan or Gift of Compassion Home where seven nuns are in charge of 59 children with different kinds of physical and mental disabilities, aged six months to 12 years.
The undercover investigator filmed children being fed, hands bound with strips of cloth, recalling how, at night, they were tied to their cots with similar strips. He also filmed the children left unattended in the toilet, at times for up to 20 minutes.
In his view, this highlights the Sisters' poor trained in dealing with disabled children.
Macintyre, who carried out the investigation for Five News channel, said two international Catholic care givers urged him to go and out of concern for the conditions in the Daya Dan home.
According to the journalist, one shackles animals or prisoners but definitely not children, especially those with special needs. Above all, he stressed, "[t]here are strategies for looking after disabled children that minimise stressful situations, but, as a result of poor training and lack of resources, staff are resorting to shocking practices."
In an interview to an Indian TV channel, Sister Christie MC said: "Physical restraint is used only when absolutely necessary and for the safety of the child and [. . .] only and for a limited period."
Even though the attention of the international media is focused on the allegedly insensitive handling of children, the city administration is treading carefully in Kolkata because Mother Teresa has a semi-God status among people of all faiths and government officials are unwilling to commit any faux pas in the investigation.
Mr Haque, Secretary of the Kolkata Social Welfare Department, told AsiaNews that "[w]henever any allegations are brought to our notice, we immediately investigate the case with some senior officer for the Department."
Kolkata's Deputy Commissioner of Police N. Ramesh Babu added: "We will investigate and then take action. But firstly, we have to be sure and verify the allegations."
Sister Mariangelee MC, of Asha Dan in Byculla (central Mumbai), noted that in Daya Dan there are seven nuns for 59 children. "It may be," she said, "that in order to prevent them from falling and hurting themselves, they are secured with pieces of fabric as a precautionary measure . . . and not the brutal and cruel way that the story is portraying."
Speaking about the recent flood which ravaged Mumbai she said: "Our home was flooded knee-deep. We had to physically carry our children all of whom are handicapped to a safer place. No one from the administration even came to inquire about the conditions of these children. We went without electricity and even water was scarce, but the authorities were nowhere in sight. Some of the children are so severely mentally handicapped, but by God's strength we managed to protect them from the perils of nature."
Sister Mariangelee explained that in their home children are not bound because "we have enough volunteers to help us".
She warned against generalising. "Please do not make it appear as if all handicapped children in all our homes are tied. You have to assess each situation differently; each home has a different context and different concerns."
Sister Nirmala Joshi, superior-general of the Missionaries of Charity, currently abroad, sent AsiaNews an official statement in response to the journalist's allegations. Here it is:
"Thank you for bringing to our notice what you consider lapses in the quality of care and hygiene in this home. We value constructive criticism and admit that there is always room for improvement."
"It is only those who work day in and day out with these 59 very special children who really know both the demands to total self-forgetfulness as well as the joy at the littlest response and improvement in these children."
"God in His providence is supplying sufficiently for the needs of the poor under our care through the generous gifts of many individuals who make sacrifices to share in our work of love. Dedication, love, care is something money cannot buy and this is the reason our dearest Mother, Mother Teresa, encouraged people to give not just out of the abundance but their hearts of love and their hands to serve."
"Our home continues to be simple, providing immediate and effective service to the poorest of the poor as long as they have no one to help them."
"Physical restraints are used only when absolutely necessary for the safety of the child and for educational purposes for limited periods of time.
"We try to provide all that is necessary for the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs of those under our care, and are committed to continual efforts at improving the quality of care we give them."
"May God bless you and your efforts to promote the dignity of human life, especially for those who are underprivileged."