When I was at Allahabad, my hometown, I was in regular touch with the sisters ( nuns ) of St.Mary's Convent, Allahabad, and would often help them, both when I was a lawyer in Allahabad High Court and a Judge in the High Court.
The sisters belong to a Roman Catholic congregation called the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary ( IBVM ), whose headquarters were in Rome under a Mother General, who was under the Pope. The congregation runs schools for girls all over the world, including several in India.
The basic problem of the sisters arose at the time of admission of students in class 1 of their college. The education imparted in the college was of a very high standard, and so everyone wanted his/her daughter to be admitted there. But the seats were limited, each class having a maximum of 40 students, and the applicants were 40-50 times the number of seats available. So all kinds of pressure was applied by various people to get their girl admitted.
The school session starts in April, and so from January pressure on the sisters would start. They would start getting notices from various government and municipal authorities alleging violation of some law, the whole object being to pressurize the Principal into admitting their child. Sometimes some unruly students of the Allahabad University, which was nearby, or hooligans ( goondas )would enter the school premises and threaten the Principal and others, demanding admission for some girl. Possibly they had received some money from the girls parents for using such strong arm methods.
So the sisters would come to me, sometimes crying, and tell me their woes, and I would always help them. As a Judge of the High Court I often telephoned the District Magistrate or other authority and told him in no uncertain terms that I would not tolerate this intimidation of my sisters ( as I started calling them ).
When some people would speak critically of the sisters, accusing them of some imaginary improper acts ( some of them unmentionable ), I would tell the person " Are you not ashamed of yourself in talking like this ? These sisters are providing the best education for our daughters. And they do it without wanting anything in return. They have denied to themselves family life and other pleasures which most women would like. They take a pittance of an allowance for themselves, and their whole lives are dedicated to serving the people. They should be worshipped, but instead you are criticizing them ".
I really did start regarding the nuns of the Convent as my sisters, and they always treated me as a brother. On Christmas and Easter my wife and I would visit them in their convent, and they would.give me excellent cake and other snacks, which they had prepared themselves, to eat. They would get very excited whenever we came to their convent, and gathered around us as if to meet a brother. There were about 30 of them in that particular convent, under a sister superior who was above in the hierarchy than even the Principal. I still remember the names of some of them, Sister Celine, Sister Evelyn, etc There were also German sisters like Sister Elizabeth, but they are all dead now.
When my wife and I went to Rome in 1988 we carried with us a letter from the sister superior of the Convent at Allahabad addressed to the Mother General, in which it was mentioned that Mr. ( I had not yet become Mr.Justice, which I became in 1991 ) Katju is our lawyer who does our cases free. So please help him in any way possible.
The headquarters of the IBVM in Rome were then at 50, Via Nomentana ( I do not know whether it is still there ). The building was surrounded by high security walls, because thefts had taken place there, as we were later informed by the sisters. We went to the gate and I pressed a button. A voice came through, asking something in Italian, which I could not understand. I replied " We have come from India with a letter from the sister superior of Allahabad ". At this the gate opened electronically and we went in. There we were met by sister Germana, a German sister, who was then secretary to the Mother General, to whom I gave the letter. She read the letter and asked how we can be helped. I said that we are looking for some cheap accomodation in Rome where we intend to spend a few days sightseeing ( in those days the Indian government permitted taking only 500 dollars for a foreign visit ). So could she advise us where we could go ? She went inside, conferred with the Mother General, and then said that since I do cases free for the Allahabad sisters we are the guests of the Convent, and must stay in their guestroom just across the road.
We stayed there for 3 days, had our meals with the sisters, and were given bus tickets to travel all over Rome. Sister Germana herself took us to the Vatican., and we went to various other places of historical interest like the Roman Forum and the Collosseum, Piaza Venetia, baths of Caracalla, catacombs of San Calisto, etc I was always a keen sudent of history, and I had read a lot of ancient Roman history too, so it was a fascinating experience. Standing on Capitol Hill I felt transported to the days of Caesar and Augustus ( I had read about the Capitol in Shakespeare's ' Julius Caesar ' ).
I was in regular touch with the sisters of St. Mary's convent as long as i was in Allahabad. Sometimes when they would come to my residence for some advice or help, I would, after doing the needful, ask my servant to get a lot of fresh vegetables from my garden to give to the sisters.
In 2004 I was appointed Chief Justice of Madras High Court, after which I became Chief Justice of Delhi High Court and then a Supreme Court Judge. So I have lost touch with the sisters as I have been out of Allahabad, but I hope and trust they are well. They will always be my dear sisters.
If India is to progress all Indians must develop the spirit of dedication and sacrifice which the Convent sisters exhibit, anonymously and quietly