Uttar Pradesh: Now Christians feel the heat

The UP police booked four Christian institutions and arrested their employees based on complaints by unrelated persons

The Evangelical Church of India in Hariharganj, Fatehpur, was accused by the Uttar Pradesh police of indulging in ‘forced conversions’ (photo: article-14)
The Evangelical Church of India in Hariharganj, Fatehpur, was accused by the Uttar Pradesh police of indulging in ‘forced conversions’ (photo: article-14)

Akanksha Kumar

Four Christian-run institutions in the Uttar Pradesh town of Fatehpur face criminal cases for alleged forcible conversion of Hindus, with over 200 accused, many arrested and imprisoned, under UP’s three- year-old anti-conversion law. An investigation by Article 14 reveals similar statements in four FIRs over nine months, police cases or raids on Christian institutions, based on illegal third-party or anonymous complaints. Simultaneously, the Union government acted against the finances of one of these four institutions.

On 14 April 2022, a warm summer’s day, pastor A* was at home on the premises of Broadwell Christian Hospital in Fatehpur when he received a panicked phone call.

The call came from the 118-year-old Evangelical Church of India, located barely 500 m away in the Hariharganj locality of this eastern UP town. At the church, pastor Vijay Masih was about to finish up a daily prayer service, when all hell broke loose.

Around 55 Christians had gathered inside the church that day to commemorate Maundy Thursday—a holy day on the Christian calendar, marking the last supper of Jesus Christ with his disciples. The prayer service was scheduled from 6 p.m. to 7.30 p.m.

At 7 p.m., around 200–250 people affiliated with the Hindu right-wing group Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), stormed the church and locked the doors. Slogans against alleged conversions being carried out in the church were raised, along with chants of ‘Jai Shri Ram’. The VHP held the congregation captive for one-and-a-half hours, before the police arrived at 9 p.m., along with the local media.

As part of the initial inquiry based on the VHP’s allegations of conversion, the police asked everyone in the church to produce their Aadhaar cards.

It was A who had called the police. Meanwhile, at the scene, based on a complaint by a VHP member, the UP police booked 55 people present inside the church in a first information report (FIR) at Fatehpur’s Kotwali police station. No police action was taken against the VHP.

In this concluding part of our three-part series* on the misuse of the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act 2021, we explain how the Fatehpur church case has led to cases against 201 Christians in four FIRs filed over nine months—making this one of UP’s largest anti-conversion cases.

In Part 1, our investigation of 101 FIRs registered in anti-conversion allegations revealed that most complaints were filed by third parties with no legal standing, even under the state’s anti-conversion law, itself criticised for being unconstitutional.

In Part 2, our analyses of 37 bail orders by district courts in UP revealed a pattern of questionable investigation, with FIRs based on complaints by third parties, not victims but Hindu extremists.

UP’s anti-conversion law and similar ones in at least 12 states have been frequently criticised. The law has provisions that violate the Constitution, upends the burden of proof and contradicts established laws that the Supreme Court has often restated, as Article 14 reported on 14 February 2024.

Challenges to UP’s anti-conversion law and similar ones in four other states are pending in the Supreme Court, which last heard the case in April 2023. The law “takes away the right of choice of every human being and is absolutely unconstitutional”, former Supreme Court judge Deepak Gupta said in 2020.

A pattern is evident

The case against the Fatehpur church set off a chain of FIRs against other Christian institutions in the town over the next nine months, including the Broadwell Hospital, a Christian-run university and an NGO.

In all instances, police reports against these institutions seem to follow the same pattern: (a) There are six FIRs from ‘complainants’ that parrot each other’s statements; (b) no complainant spoke of being coerced to convert to Christianity; (c) the police had, often, in a manner that the law does not allow, drawn conclusions based on third-party complaints and anonymous complaints; (d) raids on institutes resulted in little evidence of forcible conversion

As the UP police tried to build a case, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the ruling party in UP and India, acted against the finances of one these institutions.

A flurry of criminal cases

The 55 people initially named in the Fatehpur church case were accused of attempts at conversion under UP’s anti-conversion law and criminal intimidation, cheating, promoting enmity and forgery under the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

VHP sahmantri (joint secretary) Himanshu Dixit alleged in the first of the four FIRs that 90 ‘innocent Hindus’ were being converted ‘by means of cheating... as part of the 40-day ritual’. According to Dixit, ‘The church pastor, Vijay Masih, was aided in this conversion process by the employees of the (Broadwell) hospital.’

Several hospital employees attend prayer services at the church, since it is close to the hospital. A said he could not forget the VHP invasion of their church. Nine months after the registration of the FIRs in which he was accused, his life has not gone back to normal.

Between 23 and 24 January 2023, three FIRs alleging conversion at the Evangelical Church of India were filed at Fatehpur’s Kotwali police station. The three complainants were Fatehpur locals—Virendra Kumar, Sanjay Singh and Satyapal—who claimed they were among those present inside the church on 14 April 2022.

A was named in all the three FIRs filed in January 2023.

*Name withheld on request

AKANKSHA KUMAR is a Delhi-based multimedia journalist. The full report can be accessed at article-14.com

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