By BosNewsLife Asia Service
NEW DELHI, INDIA (BosNewsLife)– A priest and nun who spent 24 days in a northern Indian jail on charges of violating environmental legislation say the experience helped them to understand the plight of prisoners and spread their Christian faith in this mainly Hindu nation.
“Now I know the difficulties of being a prisoner,” said Queen of the Apostles Sister Deena, who was detained along with priest Simon D’Cunha.
“I will pray for them in a special way daily,” added Deena, who uses only one name, in comments to the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) news agency.
“I also pray that no one should be arrested or jailed,” UCAN India quoted the nun as saying following her release last Friday, August 31.
D’Cunha is the manager of Prabhat Tara Junior School in the town of Pachuakhera, Deena is the principal.
The Forest Department of Uttarakhand state detained the two on August 8 for allegedly killing over 250 white crane chicks while trimming a tree in their school compound.
Both have denied wrongdoing , BosNewsLife established Tuesday, September 4.
“The tree at Prabhat Tara Junior School had branched over a water tank and bird droppings had posed a serious health problem for the school’s more than 500 students,” explained priest Pius Menezes, director of social services of Bareilly diocese, in earlier remarks.
The birds, killed when the branches were felled, also “dirtied the school premises and the school had difficulty in serving mid-day meals to the children,” the priest explained, adding that the two had no intention to kill the chicks.
A lower court initially rejected their bail application but on August 29 the two were granted bail by the state High Court.
They were behind bars for two more days for some technical reasons, the Christians said, and it was not immediately clear when the trial would continue.
The nun stressed she never expected to be jailed. “Initially it was difficult for me to accept the fact,” she said, adding that she initially had no provisions with her.
The nun was kept in a cell that had 45 women and the priest was in another cell with 70 men, according to UCAN.
Deena said the “jailer’s wife”, a former student of her school, brought “dress and toilet articles” to her. The cell reportedly had two toilets with half doors.
“I found it very difficult and did not take a bath for two days. That was a big problem for me. But then I overcame the difficulties. There was not enough water in the cell to have a proper bath. The inmates used to help me to carry water,” Deena said.
Each prisoner “is given seven chaptis and dal (lentils) around 11 am and at night” while on Sundays, they get “rice and dal in the afternoon,” explained UCAN, which investigated the case.
“Although I was not accustomed to sleep on the floor I adjusted to it within two days. We had to get up at 6 am and then line up for attendance. After that we were free to do whatever we want. I used to spend time in prayer,” the nun reportedly said.
The 58-year-old woman with high blood pressure stressed that her roommates treated her well, calling her “Guru Mai, or ‘mother teacher’. “They used to console me. There were four mothers with breast feeding children. I felt very sorry for them,” she recalled.
She said she took her jail term as “an opportunity to practice” her Christian faith. “I was the only Christian in the cell. I read the Bible loudly and spoke to them about Christ and the religious life.”
She said her roommates were crying when she left the jail.
Priest D’Cunha called his jail term “a unique experience,” that helped him “understand the prisoner’s difficulties.”
He said he too took some time to adjust to the new situation. “I took it as a challenge and spent days talking to other prisoners and praying for them.” His cell had two drug addicts and he spoke with them about the ill effects of drug addiction. “At least for 15 days they did not use drugs,” he claimed.
The priest said he plans to visit his mother and then return to the school.
The nun said she would undergo medical treatment for several few days, before showing up for work.