INDIA: Expulsion of Sr Vanalselvi while in detention


Urgent Appeal Case: UA-08-2002
ISSUES: Arbitrary arrest & detention,

Expulsion of Sr Vanalselvi while in detention 

INDIA: unfair dismissal, social ostracism, denial of right to livelihood and freedom of expression by Religious Order 

The latest UPDATE for this appeal is available at: 
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We have received astounding news relating to the inhumane treatment and dismissal of a nun by her order. Sister Vanaselvi osm, a woman who has completely devoted her life to the service and upliftment of the poor in India, had been arrested (on 20 November 2001) and detained by the Suramangalam police on baseless charges. While she was in detention, rather than supporting their sister in need her order expelled her, gave a copy of the expulsion letter to the police and advised the members of her congregation as follows: 
– No one should go and meet her in jail 
– Don’t have letter correspondence with her 
– No community or institution should allow her to enter after her release from jail 
– Don’t comment on the incident or its background to anyone. 

Needless to say, this is unfair dismissal without warning, a denial of her right to livelihood, social exclusion, and a denial of the right to freedom of expression of the Congregation members, in violation of several fundamental human rights. Further details of the incident are provided below. 

Shocked by the news, both People’s Watch Tamilnadu (PW-TN) and Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) wrote to the Superior General of the Order (the Congregation of Mother of Sorrows Servants of Mary, based in Chennai), complaining that this treatment was barbaric and requesting that steps be taken to correct the situation. The Reverend Sister Superior General, did not even care to reply to AHRC. A meeting of PW-TN on December 26 with the Superior General also bore no fruits. Hence, only after taking these attempts to resolve the matter through dialogue, PW-TN and AHRC now forward this appeal to our whole network for your action in defence of Sr. Vanaselvi (see SUGGESTED ACTION after the following BACKGROUND section). 


(A) Profile 

Sister Vanaselvi joined the Indian Catholic religious order called ‘Congregation of Mother of Sorrows Servants of Mary’ in 1985. She abstained from wearing footwear from that time as a sign of solidarity with the poor. She is now 35 and has been a permanent member of her Religious Order since her induction in 1994. 

After graduating from studies in History and Education, she taught at St. Aloysius’ Girls Higher Secondary School in Tuticorin for 6 years. During the evenings she visited and offered whatever services she could to the poor in Tuticorin, such as literacy classes. She was committed also to the struggles of the poor for environmental justice and economic, social and cultural rights, standing alongside them at every opportunity. 

In recognition of her skills and commitment, she was appointed Headmistress of the Louisa Girls¡¦ High School in Kazhugumalai in Tirunelveli district of Tamilnadu in India in 1999. Upon moving to this district she continued her commitment to the poor, championing the cause of child labourers and offering social awareness education to women. She also introduced a Human Rights Education program (prepared by Tamilnadu’s People Watch and Conference of Religious of India) into the schools of Thoothukudi district. During the school holidays she conducted special training programs for Dalits and fishermen in other districts. 

(B) The Arrest 

Sr. Vanaselvi was travelling by the night bus from Bangalore in Karnataka State to Tirunelveli in Tamilnadu State on 20th November 2001. The bus was stopped by the Suramangalam police of Salem on the outskirts of Salem Town. It was later revealed in court that the police did not even have a shred of evidence to arrest her – hence she was released on unconditional bail by the High Court. [The police also forced her to change out of her uniform and into a different sari, whence many pictures were taken of her and spread publicly. The Superior General has used the pretext of Sr. Vanaselvi violating the dress code of the order, despite the fact she did so against her own will.] 

After her arrest, a case was registered under Sections 120(B) (hatching criminal conspiracy in the name of race and language), 153-A (instigating the people with the intention to disturb public tranquillity) and 124A (sedition) of the Indian Penal Code in Cr. No. 1552/2001 against Sr. Vanaselvi by the police officials of Suramangalam Police Station of the Salem Police Commissionerate. Thereafter, she was remanded before the Judicial Magistrate No.II of Salem. The Magistrate then remanded her to 15 days judicial custody. She was initially lodged at the Sub-Jail in Salem for three days and then transferred to the Special Prison for Women at Vellore. 

The allegation made by police is that she was in possession of a packet of pamphlets in Tamil apparently eulogizing the sandalwood smuggler Veerappan and denouncing the present and former Chief Ministers of Tamilnadu, the present Chief Minister of Karnataka and the police of both the states. The Judicial Magistrate dismissed her petition for bail, but Sr. Vanaselvi was however released by the Madras High Court on unconditional bail on 10th December. At the hearing, the police were unable to produce any of the pamphlets that they claim Sr. Vanaselvi was carrying, making a mockery of their stated reason for arrest. 

(C) The Expulsion and Ostracism 

On 29th November 2001, three Sisters of the Congregation deputed by the Superior General met Sr. Vanaselvi at the Special Prison for Women in Vellore and hand-delivered an expulsion letter, dated the same day and signed by the Superior General. These orders were obviously made without any consulation with the Sister concerned. While the expulsion order was being served to Sr. Vanaselvi in the jail, a circular was sent by the Superior General to all the sisters¡¦ communities in the Order on the same date ordering all members to refrain from having any communication or offering any assistance to Sr. Vanaselvi. It was effectively an ostracism order. Both the expulsion letter and the ostracism order are included at the end of this email, unaltered, for your reference. A read of these letters will show the contemptuous and inhumane treatment meted out to Sr. Vanaselvi by the Superior General. 


PW-TN and AHRC urge you to write to the Superior General of the Congregation of Mother of Sorrows Servants of Mary, requesting that she immediately reinstate Sr. Vanaselvi and offer her every possible help for the baseless allegations being made against her. The contact details – address, telephone, fax and email – and a sample letter are provided below. 

To support this case, please click here: SEND APPEAL LETTER


Sr. Corona Mary, O.S.M., 
Servite Generalate, 
41, 42, Tank Bund Road, Nungambakkam, 
Chennai 600 034, 
Tel: +91 44-8203840 (Res); +91 44-8203819 (Off) 
Fax: +91 44-8203830 


I have read the details about this case, including the two letters written by you to the Sister concerned while she was in detention which you have signed ‘your loving sister’ and another to the members of your congregation. I am truly shocked. Your treatment of a member of your congregation is inhumane, against basic justice, a violation of human rights, and immoral. Your first duty to a detained member of your religious is to take care of her. That is a simple act of decency that you expect from any person. Instead you dismissed her while in detention and without even talking with her. What is really beyond comprehension are your orders: ‘No one should go and meet her in jail; Don’t have letter correspondence with her; No community or institution should allow her to enter after her release from jail; Don’t comment on the incident or its background to anyone.’ This falls below the level of human behavior expected of anyone, let alone Christian conduct of the followers of Jesus, a man who knew His followers by their actions: ‘when I was imprisoned, you visited me’. We urge you to immediately repudiate all your orders against Sr. Vanaselvi, correct the wrong done in the spirit of humility and reconciliation and end this scandalous behavior. 

Yours sincerely (or, if you prefer, “Your Loving Sister”) 


(A) The letter of expulsion given to Sr. Vanaselvi in detention 


My dear Vanaselvi, 

You know very well that the activity you were engaged in, is not only beyond the purview of the Congregation but it is also strictly forbidden by the Congregation. Our Directives strictly forbids sisters to work in and for any socio-political movement. Moreover our Plenary Assembly held in 1997 strictly forbids sisters working in school to be engaged in any other social involvement except those specified as campus ministry. These decisions were taken only after long discussions. It is painful to think that you who participated in the General Chapter blatantly disobeyed and brought this on you, our Congregation and the Church. 

The news of your arrest and the reason for it have been flashed across the globe by the media the different TV channels, newspapers, internet etc. Responsible persons in the Church are stunned that a sister could behave in such an irresponsible manner. While they express their sympathy, they also are worried that such a lack of discipline can be disastrous to the Church and the religious. It is not so much the arrest but the reason for your arrest that is the source of so much scandal. I cannot express to you fully the damage done to the Church, religious and our Congregation in particular. 

Therefore according to Canon 703, I together with the General Council expell you from our Congregation. It is an extremely painful decision for us to take but under the circumstances, it has become necessary. I have also enclosed a copy of the general circular announcing this decision to all the sisters in the Congregation. 

May God bless you and give you courage to accept this decision. I am praying for you that you may find peace in life. 

Your loving, 
(Seal) (sd) Sr Corona Mary, O.S.M. 

(B) The ostracism order sent to all members of the Congregation 

(translated from the original in Tamil) 
Servite Generalate, 
41,42, Tank Bund Road, 
Nungambakkam, Chennai 600 034, India. 
Phone: Resi: 044-8203840, 
Off: 044-8203819, 
Fax: 044-8203830. 


Dear Sisters, 

I am writing this communication on the occasion when the hearts of all of us are filled with feelings of sadness and humiliation. 

In the General Chapter held on May 1997, we decided that those who are working in schools should not get involved in any social ministry apart from the social works done as part of our campus ministry. Further in the Special General Chapter held last year, we decided that sisters should not be members of socio-political movements of any type. We have our religious dress. We also have a special dress to be used for travelling. I have insisted several times that no one, including social workers, should wear any other dress. Violating deliberately all these, Sr. Vanaselvi has brought about adverse consequences to the church and to the Religious and adverse consequences and ineraseable humiliation to our Congregation. After having collected information from and held consultations with various people regarding Sr. Vanaselvi’s action and the repercussions that has resulted and is bound to result, the General Council had a discernment on 28.11.2001. As a result of this, Sr. Vanaselvi is dismissed from the Congregation. I announce that this decision comes into force with immediate effect. As soon as you get this letter, read it in the Community and see to it that it is kept on the notice board for a week. 

As her action has affected the Congregation very much, we cannot have good relationship with Sr. Vanaselvi as we used to have with others who leave the Congregation. Hence I ask you to adhere to the following regulations strictly. 
1. No one should go and meet her in jail. Don’t have letter correspondence with her. 
2. No community or institution should allow her to enter after her release from jail. 
3. Don’t comment on the incident or its background to any one. 
Realizing the importance of the regulations given above in today’s circumstances, I ask you to observe them strictly. 

Reminding you of the word ‘Yes’ in our Constitution, 

“When it sprang from God, it was Creation; 
When it sprang from Mary, it was Incarnation; 
When it sprang from Jesus, it was Redemption; 
When it springs from us, it is Holy.” 

I end this announcement. 

Your loving sister, 
(Sd) S.Corona Mary, o.s.m. (seal) 

UPDATE: An appeal for justice for Sr. Vanaselvi 

Document Type : Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID : UA-08-2002
Countries : India,
Issues : Arbitrary arrest & detention,