The principal of a missionary school was booked under the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Ordinance 2020 on 23 February on a complaint by a woman teacher who accused the headmistress of harassment and trying to force her to convert her religion. Police have registered a first action report invoking the law against Khajurao-based convent school principal Sister Bhagya.
Nobody has been arrested so far, said Sandeep Khare, an inspector at the Khajuraho police station.
“A schoolteacher, Ruby Singh, filed a complaint that she has been working in the school on a contractual basis for the past four years,” Khare said. “ She belongs to a lower-middle-class family and school principal Sister Bhagya came to know about her poor financial condition. The principal started pressurising her for conversion and used undignified words for her religion. The principal was luring her and promising to increase her salary and regularise her job if she converted.”
Ruby Singh said that she had been working at the school on a contractual basis for the past four years. Singh hails from a lower-middle-class family. When the principal of the missionary school, Sister Bhagya, learned about the teacher’s financial condition, she started pressuring her for conversion. “When she refused to change her faith, Sister Bhagya stopped paying her salary to her. The principal sacked her from the job,” said Khare.
Missionary school, Christian authority defend principal’s act
The Madhya Pradesh Catholic Church’s public relation officer Maria Stephen said the missionaries school was being unduly targeted. “The teacher was sacked after receiving a complaint from parents and students. She was warned but didn’t improve her way of teaching.”
Ruby Singh worked in the school as a kindergarten assistant teacher from 2016 to 2017.
Sister Bhagya assumed the position of principal of SHCS in July 2019. At the time, Ruby Singh was working as a substitute for teachers. The missionary school alleges that she could not handle any lessons. She usually screamed, got angry and made so much noise in her class that the principal moved her to the office assistant job, the school claimed.
The missionary school alleged when the principal suggested that Singh take up the office assistant job, Usha, a senior Hindi teacher, began to mislead Ruby Singh, the school alleged. So Ruby sat in the office room for about three months — October, November and December 2019 — without doing any work. She would not take the salary of these months.
From January 2020 onwards, Singh began accepting to work as an office assistant, the school said. But she did it only to take the substitute book or to bring the attendance register, the school authority claimed. She then asked for the money for the previous three months, “creating great problems”, the school said.
The missionary school claimed that Singh would often enter and sit in the principal’s office even when the principal had had to meet parents and students. “She looked like an abnormal person. She sometimes laughed, sometimes she cried loudly and sometimes she yelled at the principal,” a spokesperson of the school said.
After the lockdown she went back to school to ask for work and money. So the principal gave her some library work in June until 17 July 2020. During that time, no students, no staff, or her support staff came to school.
The principal told her to find a job somewhere else. She asked for a letter, but the principal did not give her any letter.
After 17 July, Singh came to school to ask for the payment of her salary or stipend, the school said, for the month of July. They said she was given a work fee for 17 days. Thereafter, until 31 January of this year, there were no problems on her part, the school claimed. She had forcibly taken the salary of October, November and December 2019.
In December 2020, the principal informed the teachers that the salary thereafter would be linked to the collection of the school fee. After the message, the missionary school claimed, one of the senior teachers, Usha, created problems.
On the 5th of every month, the salary is distributed to the staff. As there was insufficient collection of fees, salary payments were delayed for a few days. Usha told Ruth Mary, “On 10 February, something will happen in the school. All the media will come. I met many parents at the market and they said they paid the tuition.
Ruby stood in front of the main gate of the school, the missionary authority claimed, and she hit the gate, making a loud noise. She shouted, they said, that she would commit suicide. She would come to school around 9:30 AM or 10 AM and return around 1.30 PM and 2:30 PM, the school claimed about her recent activities.
A few staff members, the gate attendant and the principal of the missionary school corroborated the statements above. On the same day at 10.30 PM, a local media outlet published a report of the conversion attempts. That very day, the authorities served a notice to the DEO, BEO, BRC and the Madhya Pradesh government.
The Chhattarpur DIG visited the premises and inquired about Ruby Singh and Usha. They asked the teachers and the principal a few questions. On 22 February, the FIR was registered against the principal at the Khajuraho Police Station on charges of conversion on two acts of the 2020 Madhya Pradesh Religion Freedom Ordinance Section.
A declaration from the diocese, signed by Fr Paul Varghese, claimed: “The problem began to arise when the principal announced in December 2020 that the salary thereafter will be paid based on the collection of school fees. The salary was paid on the 5th of each month. When there was a delay in paying her salary for January 2021, Usha, a senior Hindi teacher, reacted. The audio recording of her was presented at the police station. She instigated and misled Ruby Singh to do all of this. The accusation against Bhagya, the principal, is just a revenge (sic) by Usha and Ruby Singh. “