Fatehpur: A Christian hospital that has served a northern Indian city for more than a century faces closure after it became a victim of religious bigotry since one year.
The Broadwell Christian Hospital managed by the Evangelical Church of India (ECI) in Fatehpur has faced “physical, mental, and emotional abuse due to the false allegations of forceful religious conversions,” bemoans Sujith Varghese Thomas, the institutions senior administrative officer.
Fatehpur, a city situated between the Ganga and Yamuna rivers in Uttar Pradesh state, is some 550 km southeast of New Delhi.
Some Hindu nationalist groups have accused the hospital of indulging in forcible religious conversions, which the hospital authorities say are false allegations.
In “an open letter” to the media, Thomas claims the hospital that provides dedicated service in social development and healthcare has remained a “vital resource” for the local community for the past 114 years.
“For over a century, the hospital, its staff and its management have shared a fraternal bond with the community – something that goes beyond mere doctor and patient association. This bond is a deep two-way relationship of care, of trust, of service and of dignity – the metaphorical blood flow that has kept us connected, healthy, motivated and in service through the years,” adds the February 23 letter.
However, the institution has faced “undignified abuse, both physical and emotional, due to being a minority institution,” Thomas laments.
He holds “politically motivated religious extremists, along with insensitive and prejudiced police officials” responsible for the institution’s current troubles.
The troubles began on April 14, 2022, when some 100 religious extremists with weapons barged into the church where Christians, including many hospital staff and their families, were attending Maundy Thursday services.
The intruders insisted the Christians should chant “Jai Shree Ram” and locked them, including women and children, inside the church and called the police.
Thomas’ letter alleges that the police detained the Christians and registered a First Information of Report (FIR) against 35 for forcefully converting 90 people into Christianity during the service. They were booked under various sections under the Indian Penal Code, including one under the Uttar Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2021.
Uttar Pradesh is among several Indian states that have enacted laws against fraudulent religious conversions.
The FIR, filed by a Hindutva outfit leader, says Vijay Masih, the lead pastor, had verbally confessed to the allegations of forceful conversions.
Thomas alleges that the police failed to verify the allegations by crosschecking with the alleged converts.
“However, an examination of the Aadhar cards of all those attending the prayer did not reveal any non-Christian in the meeting. It was declared that the 90 who were supposedly being converted had escaped through the back gate, when the truth was that the extremists had locked both the gates from outside to prevent any person from escaping,” the hospital administrator points out.
The following day, April 15, 2022, Priti Masih, the pastor’s wife, filed a counter complaint against the assailants for trespassing and forcing Christians to convert to Hinduism, but the police refused to register an FIR allegedly under pressure from a Hindu organization.
Thomas says after six months the police claimed to have found new evidence to support the case.
On the night of October 13, 2022, a police team forcibly entered the hospital, even those areas where outsiders were prohibited such as the labor and operation rooms.
The police team forcibly took away the staff attending to a woman in labor and questioned them, endangered the patient’s life, Thomas explains.
A complaint to the station in charge produced no action.
On November 12, 2022, some “goons claiming to be from the Bajrang Dal,” a radical Hindu group, entered Priti Masih’s home to force her to withdraw her complaint.
“Despite reporting the incident to the police, no action was taken. Additionally, the police issued notices to the ECI church management demanding documents and information that were not related to the case at hand. This suggested that the police were building a case against the church members and were continuing their harassment,” the administrator says.
The hospital faced police action again on January 2 and January 18, when they barged into the community health and hospital offices and seized hard disks from several computers as well as several registers.
Thomas’ letter says, fake pamphlets offering employment and even suitors as inducement for converting to Christianity were planted in the community health office. The medical superintendent was threatened to sign documents that included the planted pamphlets, he alleges.
On January 23, the police registered three new FIRs despite a Supreme Court ruling that no second FIR can be filed for the same cognizable offense alleged in the first FIR.
“Despite reporting these incidents to the police, no action has been taken, and the police have instead continued their harassment of the church members and hospital staff,” Thomas bemoans.
He wants these incidents to be investigated immediately as they are “clear violation of human rights.”
“It is unacceptable that a hospital dedicated to social development and healthcare is being targeted in this manner. The authorities must act swiftly to ensure that the hospital and its staff can continue to serve the community without fear of abuse,” he adds.
The hospital on February 8 submitted a four-point memorandum to the National Minorities Commission to look into the matter and bring justice to the harassed Christians.
Thomas says the harassment has caused the hospital to experience rejection and that it has become expendable.
“We feel the paradoxical pain and numbness of the cutting off of the blood flow before the amputation begins. We have never intended to bring anything but purpose and healing to anyone who walks in through our doors, much less be a threat to the larger community. We neither deserve nor are willing to be amputated,” he asserts.