NEW DELHI — A nun and a charity worker were accused this week of selling a baby at a shelter for unmarried mothers in eastern India run by an organization founded by Mother Teresa.
The police said Thursday that they had arrested the two women, who worked at the Missionaries of Charity-run shelter in Ranchi, the capital of the eastern state of Jharkhand.
The police said the shelter worker told them she had sold three other children at the home in Ranchi in recent months. The two were charged with illegally selling a child and could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
“Both the women confessed,” Amish Gupta, the police chief of Ranchi, said by telephone, adding that they had been taken into custody.
“Those who had given and those who had bought and those who had intervened have committed a crime,” he said. Other people are also under investigation, he said.
Rupa Verma, chairwoman of the state-run Child Welfare Committee in Ranchi, alerted the police after an inspection last month at the shelter, known as Nirmal Hriday, revealed that the number of children registered on the books did not reflect how many were actually there.
“I had a very good image of Missionaries of Charity, but this case came to us with hard evidence,” Ms. Verma said. “Now we are wondering what was going on there.”
The police said they arrested the shelter worker, Anima Indwar, on Tuesday, who then implicated the head nun, Sister Concilia. They arrested her on Wednesday.
Ms. Verma — who rendered the nun’s name differently, as Sister Koshneliea Bakhla — said Ms. Indwar had been tending to a mother and her 2-week-old son when she heard about a childless couple looking to adopt. Ms. Indwar approached the couple and offered to sell the baby for about $1,750, which they accepted, Ms. Verma said.
The biological mother didn’t want to keep the boy, and the couple took him home on May 15 without registering the adoption, the police said.
Ms. Verma said she uncovered the episode after conducting a routine inspection of the shelter late last month.
“I immediately felt that something was wrong,” Ms. Verma said. “But with the good image of the Missionaries of Charity in my mind, I wondered how can this be?”
Ms. Indwar, alarmed by Ms. Verma’s inquiries, contacted the couple and asked them to return with the child for some formalities. She then returned the baby to his biological mother without telling the couple, Ms. Verma said.
After they demanded the child back, filing a complaint with Ms. Verma, she confronted Ms. Indwar. Ms. Verma went to the police after the shelter worker told her that the child was the fourth she had sold illegally in recent months, in some cases for as little as $750.
The couple, who have not been identified, are appealing for custody of the child but could also face charges.
Sunita Kumar, a spokeswoman for the Missionaries of Charity, expressed doubt about the accusations.
“The sisters are not happy about it. They say it can’t be true,” Ms. Kumar said, adding that the charity would investigate the episode as well. “In all these years no such incident has happened.”
Mother Teresa was an Albanian-born Roman Catholic nun who moved to India in 1929 before founding the Missionaries of Charity, an organization that is active in more 100 countries. She died in 1997 and was canonized in 2016.
Follow Hari Kumar on Twitter: @HariNYT.
Maria Abi-Habib contributed reporting.