Since July 3, Jharkhand has been roiled by a child adoption scandal that has hit national and international headlines. It began when a couple from Uttar Pradesh approached Ranchi’s child welfare committee alleging that a woman called Anima Indwar took away the child she had helped them adopt on May 14. Indwar worked at Nirmal Hriday, a shelter for unwed pregnant women run by the Missionaries of Charity, an organisation founded by Mother Teresa. The couple said they had paid her Rs 1.2 lakh for the child.

Indian adoption laws prohibit adoptions for payment. All prospective adoptive parents, according to rules laid down in 2015, are supposed to register themselves on a centralised online government database, which connects them directly to children in adoption centres registered on the network. Missionaries of Charity is not part of the network because it opposes adoptions by single parents on religious grounds. Any adoption through the organisation is illegal.

Based on a complaint by the child welfare committee, the police arrested Indwar on July 3. In her statement, Indwar confessed to having taken money from the Uttar Pradesh couple, and said Sister Concilia, the nun supervising the unit of unwed pregnant women at the home, was an accomplice.

Three weeks after the story made the news, what exactly is the scale of the alleged “racket” involving the prominent charity organisation? What was the nature of the wrongdoing involved? How many children changed hands in return for money? travelled to Ranchi to put together this ground report which takes a comprehensive look at the case. Here are the key facts.

What the police case diary says

On July 3, according to the police case diary, Indwar confessed to having accepted money from the Uttar Pradesh couple in exchange for the baby.

In her statement to the police, Indwar said that she had given up three newborns in exchange for money, and detailed a fourth transaction that she was aware of but not involved in.

Indwar said the couple from Uttar Pradesh paid her Rs 120,000. In two other cases, she claimed to have taken Rs 50,000 each. She said she was not aware of the financial details of the fourth case.

What the adoptive families say tracked down three of the four families mentioned in Indwar’s first statement.

The family from Uttar Pradesh admitted to having paid Indwar, whom they had purportedly met through another person. They claimed to be unaware of India’s adoption rules.

The second family, that of a former Congress legislator, unequivocally rejected the charge that money was involved. According to them, the biological mother – an unwed 16-year-old – had willingly given away the child to the family. The baby’s mother was present during the formal adoption ceremony of the child and was acknowledged as the biological mother according to traditional tribal rites, the family insisted.

The third family was more ambiguous. The adoptive father, a government employee, said his wife had contacted Indwar without his knowledge and he was not certain if money had changed hands. The wife did not agree to speak to

Both the former Congress legislator’s family and the government employee claimed they had been victims of misreporting. They said they had voluntarily surrendered the adopted babies to the child welfare committee after Indwar’s first round of confessions, contrary to media reports which quoted police officials as saying the children were recovered during raids by the police.

Three of the four children have been returned to their adoptive parents “keeping in mind the best interests of the children”, said Rupa Verma, chairperson of the Ranchi children’s welfare committee. The couple from Uttar Pradesh, she said, has not claimed custody of the child.

What the media has reported

News outlets have reported that the organisation was unable to provide the details of 280 children born at the shelter between 2015 and 2018. The police have since clarified that there was no truth to these reports.

A video has circulated in which the nun – now in police custody – is seen confessing her involvement to an unseen policeman. The secretary general of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, Theodore Mascarenhas, however dismissed the confession video as “lacking context”.

Several journalists reporting on the story admitted that the police and the child welfare committee were generously leaking out unverified information to the press.

Earlier, the child welfare committee had claimed that the records of the shelter home it had seized suggested that 54 of out 122 children born under its aegis since 2016 were also “untraceable”. But a senior police officer told that these 54 children were not part of the police investigation.

Now, fresh news reports say that in a second round of confessions last week, Indwar admitted to the police that she had sold off three more newborns over the last year. These three children are reportedly “untraceable”. RK Mallick, additional director general (operations) of Jharkhand police, however, said the police had not yet been able to verify or trace these three new cases. “We are in the middle of handing over the case to the CID, so we haven’t been able to ascertain the veracity of these three cases,” he said.

What is the political controversy

What explains the local media reports that seemed to exaggerate the scale of allegations, claiming 280 babies born under the aegis of the charity were missing and that the centre’s head was aware that 24 of those children had been sold for money?

Christian groups have accused authorities in the Bharatiya Janata Party-run state of selective media leaks to discredit the Christian community on the basis of what they insist is an isolated incident.

They accuse the child welfare committee of “vindictiveness” and acting on behalf of the Bharatiya Janata Party-run state government as it shut down the Missionaries of Charity’s other children’s home in Ranchi, Nirmala Shishu Bhavan, even though there were no allegations of impropriety against it. The Bhavan used to home 22 children, all of less than two years of age. The infants have now been shifted to different shelter homes across the state.

A senior BJP leader and minister in the state government maintained there was “clear cut illegality” in the case, but admitted the episode had given “ammunition” to the state government to go after its detractors. It was, he said, a “breather” from the tribal agitations in the state that had painted the government into a corner. “Every political party would cash in on something like this,” he said.