A Christian hospital in Indian state of Uttar Pradesh’s Fatehpur district faces an imminent shutdown as the administration of the 114-year-old health center claims the staff, doctors and nurses are facing constant harassment by Hindutva supporters and the police over allegations of conversion.
Sujith Vargeshe Thomas, managing director of Broadwell Christian Hospital, told media over the phone from Fatehpur that they live in fear as his colleagues were either jailed or forced to flee the hospital due to the police action against them.
On 23 January this year, Kotwali police station registered three FIRs against the hospital administrative staff along with members of the Christian community of the area alleging fraud conversions. The FIRs were registered on the complaint of people associated with Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal. They were bookend under 420 (Dishonestly inducing delivery of property), 467 (Forgery of valuable security, will), 468 (Forgery for purpose of cheating), 506 (Punishment for criminal intimidation), 120-B (Party to a criminal conspiracy) and 3 and 5(1) sections of Uttar Pradesh’s anti-conversion law.
A notice was also issued to Dr. Samuel Mathew, chairman of the hospital, and clerk Parminder Singh.
According to hospital administration, the police conducted several raids on the hospital and staff members staying on the premises.
“Many staff from the hospital are not present. They are living like refugees in different places due to fear. They are living almost in hell. If they are in the hospital, they face arrest. They are on the run for months after taking leave,” said Thomas.
Vinay Kumar, who works in hospital as a dental technician since 2011, told media that he had to flee the hospital and live somewhere else after he was arrested in October 2022 on the allegations of converting people and forging documents. He was released in December after getting bail from the Allahabad High Court.
“I faced a lot of trouble after getting out of jail. I went into depression. My family had to struggle a lot. My children had to leave their education. I fell sick and was admitted to a Kanpur hospital. I’m still being harassed by the police,” said Vinay.
He said that the allegations levelled against him are “baseless” and “false”. “The man who was presented as a witness was not present there. I have never seen him. Even he does not know me by face,” said Vinay.
“Injustice happened to me. Everybody has the freedom to practice his religion as per the constitution. What can we do if we don’t go to mosques and temples,” said Vinay.
Amit Kumar Mishra, SHO of Kotwali police station in Fatehpur, told Clarion India that the police have filed chargesheets against 46 people in connection with these cases. All these people are associated with the hospital, he said.
“They distributed groceries and goats to the people. They even helped them set up shops. If you have a licence to run a hospital, do that. Why are you distributing these things?” he asked.
Mishra refused to accept that providing help can be part of their charity programme saying that the court didn’t consider this as charity. “These are allurements for conversion”.
Justifying the allegations levelled against the hospital staff, Mishra pointed out that the court also refused to quash the FIR filed against them.
A few weeks ago, Thomas wrote an open letter to the media alleging that they have faced “physical, mental, and emotional abuses due to the false allegations of forceful religious conversions”.
“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,” his letter read.
The trouble began for the hospital management in April 2022 when a mob led by Hindutva groups disrupted Christian prayers alleging conversion at the Evangelical Church of India (ECI), which is 10 minutes away from the hospital in Fatehpur. Half of the worshippers at the ECI were staff from the hospital. The hospital is managed by the ECI. Several members of the Christian community were arrested but later granted bail.
Thomas said that after the incident of the prayer disruption over the allegations of conversion, the police conducted a raid on the hospital on 10 October. “At that time, police officials took our two senior officers and two staff members to the police station and made them sit there for hours. Later, one of them was arrested,” he said while speaking to Clarion India.
Thomas said: “After the church, the police started targeting the hospital over allegations of conversion. Our hospital has 130 staff members, half of them non-Christians. They are either Hindus or Muslims. Ours is a Christian mission hospital. We also do prayers here. There is nothing like conversion here.”
The hospital management maintains that the assistance provided to the poor people was part of an income generation scheme under the charitable work a year and a half ago. The management claims to have notified the local authorities about its programme.
In February, the hospital also submitted a memorandum to the National Minorities Commission complaining about the harassment of Christians.
Thomas alleged that since October raids on the hospital, police officials are regularly conducting searches on the homes of the staff inside the hospital campus without search warrants. Due to these issues, many staff members have fled the hospital. “They were also issued the threat of property attachment,” he said.
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