NEW DELHI — Indian Church leaders and other prominent Christian and political leaders have endorsed the unprecedented decision of the Missionaries of Charity (MC) congregation founded by Mother Teresa to withdraw from the government-controlled adoption process in India, in order to protest objectionable clauses in India’s new adoption policy.
The MCs object to controversial provisions like granting adoption rights to single parents (separated, divorced or unwed mothers) and giving prospective parents the freedom to select child of their choice from the adoption centers.
“We endorse the stand taken by the MC congregation. They have every right to withdraw from the adoption process that goes against their faith and consciences,” Archbishop Thomas D’Souza of Kolkata told the Register on Oct. 14.
Archbishop D’Souza noted that he has been repeatedly saying the same thing to many audiences, including the national TV channels, in responding to the controversy stirred after Maneka Gandhi, India’s federal minister for women and child development, made critical comments against the MCs at a news conference on Oct. 8.
“Till now, Mother Teresa’s orphanages had their own agenda; and now, when they have to come under a unified secular agenda, they are refusing it. They have decided not to follow the guidelines,” Gandhi said, addressing a two-day national conference on Oct. 8 to discuss federal plans for women and children.
“We have voluntarily given up our recognized status to run adoption centers. If we were to continue the work set up by Mother Teresa, complying with all the provisions would have been difficult for us,” the MCs said in an unprecedented statement on Oct. 10.
The statement also clarified that the decision taken by the MC headquarters in Kolkata was prompted by the new “Guidelines Governing Adoption of Children, 2015” issued in July by the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) under the federal Ministry of Women and Child Development.
Under CARA guidelines, adoption centers are bound to abide by those guidelines.
The MCs are among the largest partners in the adoption process under the stewardship of CARA, with their 16 Sishu Bhavans (children’s homes) registered with CARA as recognized centers for adoption in India, where more than 4,000 adoptions have taken place annually under CARA monitoring.
When the Register contacted Veerendra Mishra, CARA secretary, for comment as to how adoption by single mothers was compatible with CARA’s policy that the “child’s best interests shall be of paramount consideration,” Mishra declined to comment, saying, “Better contact the ministry.”
Following Their Consciences
Archbishop D’Souza said the order is following the path shown by Mother Teresa: “The MCs want the children to be given in adoptions to families only — and not single parents — to ensure their emotional well-being and mature growth.”
After the new guidelines were issued, Archbishop D’Souza said the MCs decided to withdraw their centers quietly from the CARA list in August, after “a lot of prayer and reflection.”
“They wrote to the government accordingly, as they could not follow directives that were against the wishes of their founder and their consciences,” he explained.
Archbishop D’Souza said that the ensuing remarks made by Gandhi were “uncharitable,” in accusing the MCs of having “their own agenda.”
Two days after her initial controversial statement, the federal minister was quoted by the Times of India as saying that the CARA adoption guidelines clearly state that a single parent can adopt a child, adding, “I suspect that the Missionaries of Charity are taking the plea to send out abandoned children abroad or to Christian homes.”
“We are shocked that a [federal] minister is making such a baseless allegation. The MCs have no such agenda. Their only agenda is to live and serve. They give children in adoption to all, irrespective of their faiths,” reiterated the archbishop of Kolkata.
The minister’s allegation drew strong protests, led by Mamata Bannerji, the chief minister of West Bengal state (with Kolkata as its capital).
“We fully support Missionaries of Charity and Sister Prema in their decision to opt out of the adoption program. They have a right to do so,” tweeted Mamata Bannerji, who is Hindu, in rallying behind the MCs.
More Support for the Sisters
Derek O’Brien, a spokesman for the ruling Bannerji’s Trinamul Congress Party and a Catholic member of the Indian Parliament, urged the government and the minister concerned to be “Be Fair to the Sisters” in an Oct. 13 article in the Times of India.
“New adoption guidelines are being slyly used to beat the legacy of Mother Teresa,” O’Brien said.
Describing the minister’s comment as “insensitive and thoughtless,” O’Brien told the Register, “I am aghast as a resident of Kolkata, home of (the) MCs, and as an individual who has been fortunate to have known Mother Teresa and seen her work and that of her sisters at close quarters.”
“A group of selfless workers, whose mission extends to 139 countries, is being mocked and insulted. The laws relating to adoption are being misrepresented. And are we just supposed to watch?” said O’Brien.
“This is a serious matter, and we endorse the stand the MC sisters have taken,” Father Gyanprakash Topno, spokesman for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), told the Register on Oct. 14.
The CBCI was convening an urgent meeting of its legal advisers on Oct. 15 to scrutinize the provisions of the controversial adoption policy, Father Topno added.
“We stand with the sisters on this,” Pramod Singh, president of the Christian Legal Association and a Protestant lawyer in the federal Supreme Court in New Delhi, told the Register.
“The CARA guidelines are flawed. The good of the children is being compromised by forcing children’s homes to give adoption to single parents,” Singh said.
“The sisters have every right to keep away from a system that goes against their consciences and service,” Singh noted.
“Children cannot be given as trophies to fulfill the aspirations of single parents. They would be emotionally better in conventional homes,” he added.
For their part, the MCs reiterated in their Oct. 10 statement, “We will continue to serve wholeheartedly and free of charge — unwed mothers, children with malnutrition and differently-abled children — in all homes/centers run by us, irrespective of caste, creed and religion, by God’s grace.”
Register correspondent Anto Akkara is based in Bangalore, India.