A 114-year-old Broadwell Christian hospital managed by the Evangelical Church of India (ECI) in Fatehpur, Uttar Pradesh, faces closure due to religious bigotry.
Certain Hindu nationalist groups have accused the hospital of engaging in forced religious conversions, which the facility's administrators deny. The hospital is located in Fatehpur, Uttar Pradesh, between the Ganga and Yamuna rivers, about 550 kilometres (342 miles) southeast of New Delhi.
According to Sujith Varghese Thomas, the institution's senior administrative officer, Broadwell Christian Hospital has been subjected to "physical, mental, and emotional assault for one year, due to false charges of forced religious conversions."
A 'vital resource' for the community for the past 114 years, the hospital provides social development and healthcare services.
"The hospital, the staff, and the management have been bonded to the community for over a century – a bond that transcends mere doctor-patient association. It is a deep two-way bond of care, trust, service, and dignity – the metaphorical blood flow that has fueled our connection, health, motivation, and service over the years,” he said.
"Politically motivated religious radicals, as well as insensitive and prejudiced police units, are responsible," said Thomas.
On April 14, 2022, some 100 Hindu religious extremists with weapons entered a church where Christians, including hospital staff and their families, attended Maundy Thursday services.
They locked Christians inside the church, demanding Christians there to chant "Jai Shree Ram" and called the Police.
Thomas said the police arrested 35 Christians for forcing 90 people to become Christians during the service and filed a First Information Report (FIR). These Christians were charged under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, including the Uttar Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2021.
According to the hospital administration, a review of the Aadhar cards of those attending the prayer showed that they were all Christians and no non-Christians were present. It was alleged that 90 people who were allegedly being converted escaped through the back gate after the radicals sealed both gates from the outside.
Uttar Pradesh is among several Indian states that have enacted laws against fraudulent religious conversions.
On April 15, 2022, Priti Masih, the pastor's wife, filed a counter-complaint against the assailants, claiming that they had trespassed and forced Christians to become Hindus, but police refused to register an FIR due to pressure from the Hindu group.
The police did not act upon Priti Masih's complaint, and some "goons supposedly from the Bajrang Dal" forced her to withdraw it on November 12, 2022.
According to Thomas, police tried to discover new evidence in the case after six months.
An invading police team entered the hospital by force on October 13, 2022, even in areas that were off limits to outsiders, including the operating room and labour area.
Thomas noted, "police team members forcibly took away staff attending to a woman in labour, putting their lives at risk."
ECI church management received notices demanding documents and information unrelated to the case at hand, which indicated that the police were seeking evidence against church members and continuing harassment," the administrator said.
Police raided the hospital again on January 2 and January 18 and seized hard drives from several computers and registers.
"In the community health office, fake pamphlets, offering employment for conversion, were planted in the office computer and the medical superintendent was threatened to sign documents containing the planted pamphlets," Thomas said.
Despite a Supreme Court decision prohibiting the filing of a second FIR for the same cognizable offence alleged in the first, the police registered three new FIRs on January 23.
Thomas added that after reporting these events to the police, no action has been taken and that instead, the police have kept harassing churchgoers and hospital employees.
On February 8, the hospital sent a four-point memorandum to the National Minorities Commission to investigate the matter.
As they constitute a "serious violation of human rights," he demanded that these instances be analyzed thoroughly right now.
“This is an unacceptable attack on a hospital that offers healthcare and social services to the community, and officials must act quickly so the hospital and its staff are able to continue serving the community," he said.
As Thomas reported, the hospital's reputation has been damaged and the hospital has become expendable."
"No one in our community should perceive us as a threat, much less as a place that delivers anything but purpose and healing." - With inputs from Matters India
Radio Veritas Asia (RVA), a media platform of the Catholic Church, aims to share Christ. RVA started in 1969 as a continental Catholic radio station to serve Asian countries in their respective local language, thus earning the tag “the Voice of Asian Christianity.” Responding to the emerging context, RVA embraced media platforms to connect with the global Asian audience via its 21 language websites and various social media platforms.