The Fatehpur Story: The Disconcerting Story of Police harassment on the Christian Community and the Broadwell Christian Hospital at Fatehpur
Written and released on January 24, 2023, by Dr. Sujith Varghese Thomas
– Broadwell Christian Hospital has been serving Fatehpur for the last 123 years
– On April 14th, 2022, while many staff were peacefully attending the Maundy Thursday service, a mob locked the church doors alleging forcible conversions were going on inside.
– The police on the pretext of taking a statement, took the church members to the police station, where they were illegally detained.
– The next morning a false FIR was filed and 26 members were arrested. They were released on bail by Saturday night.
– Initially, false stories of Christianised Aadhaar cards being made to facilitate conversion were used to attempt to cover up the mistake.
– Then the harassment worsened as the police came in force and large numbers to the hospital
-Hospital work has been disrupted during the lengthy police raids with no consideration of the dignity of the staff or even the patient
– Staff have been terrorized multiple times and verbally abused using filthy language
– Police filed false FIRs with fake charges and traumatized innocent families with brutal actions including the demolition of houses.
– Fake evidence was planted to buttress false charges
– The police took to terrorize the senior doctors forcing them to sign false documents. They confiscated their phones without cause.
– the SP has not even heard them out but straight away threatened to put all staff behind bars.
– A Community Health staff from a different faith has been in custody for more than 24 hours. The police are trying to force him to testify that the hospital has been trying to convert him. His wife has filed a complaint and gone into hiding out of fear of the police.
– New FIRs are being filed at an increasing rate in an attempt to terrorize and frighten us
– But we will stand firm, continuing to serve, continuing to do good work, and continuing to share the love of Christ with those in need
Fatehpur is a district in the southern part of UP 3 hours from Lucknow and Allahabad and 2 hours from Kanpur. Broadwell Christian Hospital was started in 1909. For more than half a century, it was the only health facility in the whole district. Only after the 1970s did government hospitals and private nursing homes come up. Even then, the hospital was often the highest referral center not only for the district but even some of the surrounding districts. It has strived to demonstrate and proclaim the love of God in Christ through all the difficult situations that it has gone through over nearly 120 years.
Having been the SAO, Medical Superintendent and Consultant Surgeon and Medical Practioner in this hospital for 11 years (2008-2019), and now as Managing Director, I felt it is important to make a chronological narrative of what had happened over the past 10 months in Fatehpur for the knowledge of the general public. It is important to remind ourselves that we live in a country that has a Constitution that gives every person the right to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice, and propagate religion subject to public order, morality, and health (Article 25) and gives all denominations the right to manage their own affairs in matters of religion (Article 26).
On April 14th, several Christian staff of the hospital was attending the Maundy Thursday evening service at the ECI (Evangelical Church of India – Registered) church, a 5 minutes walk from the hospital. Suddenly, a mob of around 50 people from fringe groups surrounded the church, locked up the gates, and raised slogans and allegations that forced conversions were happening inside the church at that moment! Anyone who has been to a church for a regular service will understand that the likelihood of forced conversions going on is infinitesimally small! Moreover, all those attending were registered Christians! Previously too, similar mobs had come into the church and beaten up people, for which FIRs have been filed.
The unfortunate actions of the police
When the police were called, they surprisingly took the side of the mob rather than protecting the peaceful church attendees. In the name of taking statements from the people, they took all the church people to the police station. However, no statements were recorded, and instead, they were illegally detained at the police station. After the intervention of the district administration, they released 19 women and a minor girl after taking down their names by 1.00 am. The remaining people were detained through the night.
A false FIR was registered in the early hours of Good Friday against 35 people (including the ones who were released) and 20 unknown people. Those illegally detained through the night, were sent to jail on remand under bailable sections while the fringe groups attempted to implicate them on non-bailable charges. Even though they took everyone’s Aadhar card and mentally harassed the innocent victims, they could not provide any evidence for their allegations. The police were forced to release them on bail by Saturday night.
The initial attempts to justify the mistake
Over the course of the next few weeks, the fringe group created a false narrative saying that they had found two Aadhar cards in which, supposedly, the non-Christian names were being Christianised for the sake of forced conversion. It was later confirmed by independent journalists from The Print that the two owners of the Aadhaar cards had been approached by members of the fringe groups regarding some land-related matters and after getting their particulars, had been trying to make some fake Aadhars with Christianised names without their knowledge.
These fringe groups continued to produce many false witnesses with stories of forced conversion and the police continued to harass the Christian churches as well as the hospital, in the name of inquiry.
The harassment worsens
On October 13, around 50 police personnel under the leadership of one SHO, Mr. Amit Mishra, disrupted the routine hospital work and demanded that the women and children, whose names were implicated in the FIR, be produced before them. When the hospital authorities and senior staff requested for a little time to gather the accused, the police forcibly took two senior doctors (including the Medical Superintendent) and two senior staff to the police station.
On the intervention of senior state authorities, the doctors and one senior staff were released. The other senior staff, who was also the PRO of the hospital was again illegally detained since his name was added to another FIR on the false charge that he had physically assaulted the two police personnel who came to the hospital and had tried to escape. Both these allegations were false because he, as a PRO was only doing his job and standing in the front, talking to the 50 odd police force (not two). Then, the police framed new false charges on him under unbailable sections related to forceful conversions by producing various false witnesses. In the court, his lawyer was not even allowed to present his case and the decision to jail him was made on the basis of the false narrative produced by the opposing parties. Furthermore, all bail applications for his release were either adjourned or rejected until he finally received a bail from the Honourable High Court after spending 79 days in the Fatehpur prison. In spite of these extreme acts of injustice and harassment, the hospital continued to care for the people who kept coming to the hospital.
Increasing violence in the hope of the victims breaking
The police personnel continued to harass the hospital almost daily. On October 30 (Sunday), around 100 police personnel under the leadership of the same Mr. Amit Mishra, barged into the hospital campus, closing the gates behind them. They disrupted a group of hospital staff and families who were praying in the prayer hall. They stopped patient relatives from bringing food inside and of which patients had to remain hungry throughout this time period. CCTV camera footage showing emergency patients in labor pain made to walk from the gate of the hospital as the staff was not allowed to go and receive them. They also disrupted hospital work and terrorized the staff and patients.
Male police personnel entered the labor room where the delivery of a patient was being conducted. They walked into the operation theatre with their footwear and outside clothes and forcefully called out the gynecologist and other staff from the operation theatre for questioning. The patient for the operation had to be shifted out from the theatre because the gynecologist and anesthetist were being interrogated.
A patient who came for emergency surgery had to be referred because doctors were being questioned as evidenced by the CCTV footage. A senior manager from another hospital, who had come to help out during this crisis situation was manhandled and forcefully put into the police jeep and was about to be taken away to the police station. All these events took place without any warrant and the police abandoned it only when senior district as well as state authorities (including police authorities) intervened and ordered the immediate withdrawal of the force.
The litany of false charges
Mr. Amit Mishra continued to come in with his police force almost daily purportedly for investigation or in search of imagined criminals. Sometimes, male police personnel barged into staff houses even at night, pretending to search for the people implicated in forced conversions. One night, he forced a search at the hospital office at night without a search warrant and forcefully took details and information regarding staff from the hospital files and registers. In all these operations, he kept threatening the staff and hospital authorities of arrest and jail, if there was any non-cooperation.
They even called in the Anti-Terrorism squad and sent them to the homes of the accused staff, even into other states. An 18-year-old boy, the son of one of the hospital staff, who was doing his 1st year of a BSc Nursing course at a university in Allahabad was arrested from the college.
A trumped-up charge of making fake ID cards for converted Christians was brought against him with the false accusation that such Aadhar cards were found in his room. He was brought back to Fatehpur and beaten up in the police lock-up in an attempt to get him to implicate his parents and his 11-year-old brother who was in the church on Maundy Thursday and who were named on the FIR. He was then sent to prison. Sadly, bail could be made only after one month in prison for this completely baseless accusation. There are still around 6 women whose bail is yet to be secured of which one is an 18-year college girl studying in another state.
Widening injustice and brutality
In the meantime, similar mobs conducted a series of actions against other churches in Fatehpur. The Pastor of the ECI church was arrested while conducting a Sunday service and he was declared the “Forced Conversion Master mind” pastor. The pastor of the AG church was called one night for questioning and he never returned. He is still in jail without even a proper trial, with all his hearings being either adjourned for another date or bail applications being rejected.
Several pastors and elders from various other churches have been arrested and put in jail from across the district on charges of forced conversion. Stories of police harassment abound. One family of a church elder with small children was harassed daily until one day, they confiscated everything in their house including even the children’s clothes in the midst of the cold winter. Two days later, the police personnel came and demolished their house.
Several false witnesses were raised to give ridiculous charges against the Christians. Almost all churches were closed down and police personnel was placed before the churches especially on Sunday mornings to prevent the people from coming to worship. The police even arrested relatives of people who went to give food to their dear ones while they were at the police station. The media unfortunately called this entire operation as the most successful busting of the racket of forceful conversions in the country.
On January 2, 2023, Mr. Amit Mishra and his team raided the Community Health Department without any warrant verbally declaring that he was doing it under court order. When he was challenged about the lack of a search warrant, he talked to a senior officer over the phone, and in spite of the repeated counsel of the senior that he did not have the right to do this search, he confiscated the hard disks of three computers and some registers, while verbally accusing the team of “dirty” works without permission.
More than half of our community health staff are not Christians and each of them has worked hard for the upliftment of the poor and marginalized. Unfortunately, fringe organizations have defined all good work that Christians do as “forceful conversions by the luring of innocent minds”, without realizing that all the good we do is only out of love and concern for the poor and marginalized whom no one else is caring for!
The next day, the police started giving the media absolutely fabricated stories of forced conversion with the help of random photos that they obtained from the hard disks. The very next day, they placed an FIR on the Chairman of the Society, Dr. Mathew Samuel, whose anticipatory bail has also been rejected by the Sessions Court.
The planting of fake evidence and threatening of doctors
On January 18th, Mr. Amit Mishra came again and raided the accounts department with a questionable search warrant and again confiscated computers and hard disks of the whole hospital. In the meantime, they planted about 100 pamphlets in the CH office which talked about the benefits of being a Christian (getting a job in the hospital and other Christian organizations, getting free education for their children in Christian schools and also higher education in institutions like SHUATS, Allahabad) and how to become a Christian.
After planting these pamphlets, the police started harassing the Medical Superintendent and about 4 other staff and verbally abusing them saying the pamphlets proved they were ‘converting’.
The female staff was not permitted to go to the restroom and a lady doctor, when requested permission to go to feed her child, was told to sit in front of the policeman and feed. Mr. Amit Mishra almost physically assaulted the Medical Superintendent and threatened to arrest him if he was not willing to sign the pamphlet. Finally, under such severe threat of violence against him and his wife, who was also in the room, they got him to sign a document listing all the confiscated items including the pamphlet. The police then confiscated the personal phones of the senior staff including the Medical Superintendent without a warrant and they have still not received them back.
The entire staff, that evening, decided to go and submit their complaint to the SP of Fatehpur district. But the police force blocked them in between and manhandled them. Many staff of the hospital from other faiths also argued with the police and defended the hospital. But the police used force to send them back and threatened that all people who received bail will be arrested again. The staff went peacefully to the SP the next day but did not even hear them, but instead heaped abuses upon then and threatened to put FIRs upon each of them and the hospital and that he will ensure that each and every one of them will be behind bars. He accused them of dirty acts of forced conversion and even alleged that the previous evening, the hospital staff was attempting to attack the SP.
The latest incident
On January 20th, one of the non-Christian Community Department staff was called to the police station and was ordered to become a witness against the hospital. He was told to claim that the hospital staff had attempted to convert him. But he refused to be a part of this lie. He was let off but was told that he would be called again.
As the Managing Director had already planned his annual leave from before and was also wishing to step down from administrative responsibilities, I was called on to take charge of the hospital by the leadership. I reached Lucknow yesterday at 1.00 pm and suddenly the same community department staff, who is very loyal to the hospital and exemplary staff, called me saying that the police were calling him again and threatening him and that he had been asked to come to the police station again.
After I reached Fatehpur, when I did not hear anything from him, I tried calling him over the phone but his phone was switched off. He belongs to a very poor family from an oppressed caste and lives in a village almost 10 km away from the hospital. Till late at night, we waited for him. We finally found that they were harassing him and torturing him in the police station to give false witnesses against us.
When his wife found out about this, she decided to file an online FIR. She was even keen to call the Human Rights Commission in charge to register her complaint verbally over the phone. Till the time of writing this, the staff has not been released and his wife has gone into hiding out of fear of what the police may do when they find out she has filed a complaint. Meanwhile, the uncle of this staff, who is associated with the fringe groups has been calling me regularly, initially cordially, but now threatening me and blaming me for supposedly having forced the wife to register the complaint and for being responsible for her going into hiding.
Multiplying the false FIRs
This evening, we have received the news that a new person has filed an FIR against the entire group of people on whom the FIR was filed in April, in addition, had included some new names of local Christians as well as 20 unknown people also in the complaint. This FIR is for the same fake incident of forced conversion during the Maundy Thursday service!! That meant that the police could come any time to once again arrest all these people again. As we were discussing this, the news came in that another FIR has been filed about this same incident….. It is clear that like all lies, this one is now beginning to gain traction due to it being peddled aggressively by powerful people.
Is there a vested interest in the land?
I have been just typing these pages in an absolute hurry in order to get this narrative to our Christian friends as well as our whole nation. The staff has been traumatized for the past 10 months and the police are persisting with this harassment in an attempt to prove their unfounded accusations. But, THEY HAVE NO PROOF WHATSOEVER! All that they have are fabricated evidence. It appears that certain members of the police force and the district administration are working with fringe groups to destabilize the hospital. It is possible that there is some vested interest in this, as there is a group of local people who have been trying for some time to get the hospital to close down so that they can illegally possess this prime land in the city. We have faced a number of threats and maleficent actions from these people in the past.
We are trying to do whatever is possible. But the forced conversion narrative has been spreading all across the nation. Fatehpur is just one example of the injustice and trauma that Christians are going through in our nation. It is absolutely ridiculous that 35 people and their families have been traumatized for nearly a year for the only crime of having gone to church to pray on Maundy Thursday. It is inconceivable that this travesty of justice has not been stamped out immediately, but rather is drawing in more and more victims. It is so terribly sad that people who are sincerely trying to help their fellow human beings in need going way out of their comfort zone to serve in this difficult place are being forced to contend with the very people who should be protecting them!
This has been happening in many other states and many other locations in the state of Uttar Pradesh. I have made this narrative for the citizens of our country to act. This lawlessness and injustice cannot continue in a land that prides itself on democracy and freedom. The Christian community follows the example of Christ and is known for good works. We have been called to proclaim the good news of Christ and to be a healing balm in the suffering of the world. However, the very good works we are known for are today being given a sinister twist.
Sadly, today, in our nation, even birthday parties held by a Christian family have been labeled as forced conversion. Any good work, and giving of charity or helping the poor and the needy, if done by a Christian, has become a crime in the name of forced conversion. Many of our pastors still languish in jail and many more are being accused.
In a so-called free country like India, Christians have lost their rights to profess, practice, and propagate the religion that we believe in (Article 24). But it is time for a clear stand to be taken by every Christian – whether the right is given or taken away, we still will continue to speak the truth about the love of God for the whole of mankind and we will still continue to become the salt, light and healing balm for those who are sick, marginalized, face injustice and atrocities. It is inconceivable that we will involve in any sort of ‘forced conversion’ as is defined by the enemies of freedom, since that is the exact opposite of our primary purpose – to love and serve this nation and its people in the spirit of Christ.
I hope that this narrative will help people around this country to get a glimpse of what is happening in Uttar Pradesh and increasingly, the whole of North India and spread this message of the new norm that Indian Christians have been going through. More importantly, I hope it will challenge them to pray sincerely and fervently for those who are being persecuted and to come and join us in our lives and work. Uninformed and misguided people are trying to demoralize us and cow us down. But our trust is in God.
Dr. Sujith Varghese Thomas
Senior Administrative Officer,
Broadwell Christian Hospital,