04/16/2021, 14.09
INDIA
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Nuns charged over childbirth deaths in Madhya Pradesh free on bail

by Nirmala Carvalho

India’s Supreme Court put on hold the arrest of two nuns and a nurse working at a hospital in Ashta run by the Sisters of St Joseph. However, the facility remains closed after a woman and her baby died last December. Hindu extremists have put pressure on a facility that has cared for thousands of people.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – The Supreme Court of India has granted bail to three people, including two elderly nuns, charged with manslaughter in a lawsuit against a Catholic hospital in Sehore, Ashta district (Madhya Pradesh).

The Pushpa Kalyan Hospital is run by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Chambery. Dr Sister Herman Joseph, nurse Sister Loraine Thayil and their colleague Sabeeha Ansari were arrested in connection with the death of a pregnant woman and her baby in the hospital in December 2020.

The two elderly women religious and Ansari, a hospital employee, applied for bail after the hospital's licence was revoked. “However, the High Court of Madhya Pradesh rejected the anticipatory bail application; so we approached the Supreme Court of India,” said Father Maria Stephen, a public relations officer with the Archdiocese of Bhopal, speaking to AsiaNews.

The Supreme Court ordered state police not to arrest the defendants until the next hearing scheduled for 10 May. The three women are required to cooperate with the investigation. For this reason, 84-year-old gynaecologist Sister Joseph, 72-year-old anaesthesiologist Sister Thayil and nurse Ansari had to report to the Ashta District Police Station.

“The interrogation lasted from 11.30 am to 5.30 pm”, explained Father John Benito, vicar of the nearby church of St Teresa in Ashta who accompanied the three women.

The hospital of the Sisters of St Joseph was ordered closed in December following a protest by a group demanding the arrest of the nuns, whom they accuse of negligence in the death of the pregnant woman and her child.

Pressure from Hindu extremist groups weighed heavily on the decision to temporarily revoke the licence in a state ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which tightened its anti-conversion legislation a few months ago.

“The Pushpa Kalyan Hospital is very well known,” said Fr John Benito. “More than 60 per cent of its patients are Hindu. More than 5,000 babies were born in the hospital. In fact, the woman who died and her sisters had already given birth to their babies in this facility.

“While the woman who died was being taken into the delivery room, her sister said to a nun, 'you are a divine presence for us.' We are deeply saddened by the death of this young woman. We share the pain of her husband and family and pray for them. However, this affair has taken a political turn; many protests took place calling for the closure of the hospital.”

“This is one of the few hospitals in the district. Sister Joseph has served the poor for more than three decades. Here Dalits, tribal people and all other patients are served selflessly without discrimination. Quality care is provided to everyone with dedication and expertise.”

Fr Benito notes that “This hospital is very well known for the treatment of bites by snakes and other poisonous animals with people coming from distant villages. Many of the patients are farm labourers or daily labourers who cut firewood and are often bitten by snakes. These nuns saved thousands of people, including so many people whose cases that seemed hopeless.”

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