Conversion Racket Or Targeted Violence? Christians Living In Fears Of Persecution

The shadows of alleged conversion bid that the police claimed to have busted in Hariharganj in Uttar Pradesh’s Fatehpur on April 14, 2022 continues to hang over the district. While the police try to crack the ‘international conspiracy’, the Christians call it ‘targeted violence’.

Photograph of a damaged idol after an attack on a church in Chhattisgarh (Representative Photo)

In September 2022, the Supreme Court had asked the Centre to apprise it of the actions taken by the law enforcement agencies in the cases of alleged anti-Christian violence(s) in eight states - Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, and Uttar Pradesh. 

While passing the order, the two-judge bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and Hima Kohli also took note of the data submitted by the petitioner Rev. Peter Machado that showed at least 700 cases of violence against Christians in just 2021 and 2022 (till May). However, FIRs had been registered only in 53 cases against the accused whereas the FIRs against victims stood at 113. According to the data, in contrast to 23 people arrested for alleged violence, 510 pastors and alleged victims had been booked — mostly on the charges of forcible conversion.  

This data presented by the petitioners to the apex court makes one question whether Christians are actually safe in India. The recent incidents of Uttar Pradesh’s Fatehpur speak to the contrary. Besides the allegation of forced conversion levelled by the police against the missionaries, there are also regular raids and arrests. 

Attack on the ECI Church 

Around 120 kms away from UP’s capital Lucknow, Fatehpur district in Uttar Pradesh, as per 2011 census, has only 0.1 per cent Christian population. However, for almost a year now, the district has become a central point of discord as the Christians of Hariharganj village continue running for their lives to avoid what they call “false implication” by the police who they say have been working hand in gloves with local Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leaders. 

The Evangelical Church in Hariharganj village was first allegedly attacked by a Hindutva mob in 2018 but the situation turned worse on April 14, 2022. 

“Around 75 people, all of them members of the Evangelical Church of India (ECI), were observing Maundy Thursday within the church premises. Suddenly, a mob of around 100-150 people came from the nearby villages and locked the doors of the church. They alleged that mass conversion was happening and chanted Jai Shree Ram,” says a villager who does not want to disclose their identity out of fear of being implicated. 

"Within moments, the police came and assured the people that there is nothing to worry about", they add.

However, the police asked the congregators to get on the police vehicles and then they took them to Kotwali Police Station for “their own safety”. One of the police vans had mistakenly dropped a few people at the nearby Broadwell Christian Hospital where they used to work.

“Through them only we got to know what happened inside and how police instead of arresting the people who were creating a ruckus took our people to the police station and filed FIR against 35 named and 20 unnamed persons under various sections including 3/5 of the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act (2021),formerly Ordinance of 2020.. Among them one was an 11-year-old girl!” says Dr. Sujith Varghese Thomas, who is currently Senior Administrative Officer of the hospital.  

“Though there were no woman police personnel, they took away at least 20 women. However, as the SDM came, he asked the police to let the women and children go,” adds Dr. Varghese. On the same night at 2.54 am, Himanshu Dixit, a regional leader of VHP, filed a complaint that the church pastor Vijay Masih was engaged in converting 90 people.

Conversion Racket? 

The FIR no. 224 accessed by Outlook notes, as the local villagers informed the VHP leaders about the mass conversion, Dixit along with others reached the church to stop it. The FIR also says that upon the interrogation of the police, pastor Masih confessed to conducting the conversion by deceptive means and threats.  

However, the statement released by Broadwell Christian Hospital denies the allegations and says that the whole incident was fabricated as the police didn’t even try to verify the identities of the people present within the church. 

The statement says, “The 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.”  

While talking to Outlook, Amit Mishra, the SHO of Kotwali Police Station, says, “The police got the tip about mass conversion and reached the spot. Immediately, steps were taken to book the accused.” 

In another 24 hours, all of them, nevertheless got bail and the non-bailable sections had been dropped.

On the very next day, 15th April, Priti Masih, wife of the pastor, tried to file a counter-complaint against the people who trespassed into the church complex but the FIR was not registered. The situation turned worse from September. 

“On a September night, one of the hospital security guards came drunk and was asked by the supervisor to go away. The security guard instead went to the police station and filed a complaint saying that he was punished for denying conversion. The police immediately came and arrested the supervisor,” says Dr. Varghese, who was earlier posted elsewhere and came here a few months back to support the 114-year-old hospital during the crisis.  


Allegations of Police Harassment 

On October 13, the police under Inspector Vivek Singh allegedly entered the hospital premises without permission and entered the operation theatre area and the labour room where the staff were attending to a patient. 

“They started interrogating people on whose names FIRs were registered in April. When our Medical Superintendent told them to give some time, they didn’t pay heed and within an hour took away one senior doctor, one senior administrator, and PRO Vinay. While they released the rest after around seven to eight hours, Vinay was arrested and got bail only after 59 days,” adds Varghese.  


The Broadwell Christian Hospital Society that runs the hospital also submitted a letter to the SHO of Kotwali Police Station on October 29. Outlook accessed the letter and found the mention of the incident where a woman undergoing pain had to be left unattended due to the police intervention. However, this did not result into any action.  

On November 12, a mob of around 10 people allegedly entered Priti Masih’s house and intimidated her to withdraw the police complaint. 

“Meanwhile police continued random arrests and had put those people behind the bars who were not even there on April 14. In December, they even sent a notice to Dr. Samuel Mathews, the chairman of our organisation to submit the documents of the society,” says Varghese.  


As Dr. Mathews was travelling and told the police that he would need more time to come and furnish the document, they issued a non-bailable warrant against him. 

“Actually, Dr. Mathews was apprising the National Minority Commission of the fate of the Christians in Fatehpur and hence got implicated,” says Dr Verghese. 

On January 2, under Amit Mishra, police entered their community health centre within the hospital premises where some self-development programmes were going on with the villagers. 

“The Police entered the community health centre and took away the registers, documents, and hard disks without any search warrant,” says a hospital staff on the condition of anonymity.  


While responding to the allegations, Mishra tells Outlook, “That day we simply went for a survey and we got to know how they lure lower caste people and convert them to Christianity. When a hospital gets NOC from the government, what is its job? It has to give care and medicines. But here they give money to the people to start shops. They distribute goats, chicken, and rations to make people dependent on them…They start converting the minds. We got the information from their register only. They have huge connections from bureaucracy to politicians. They are everywhere.”

After the survey, they locked up the community health centre and placed two guards outside the office. 


“They had put their own lock and took the keys. On January 18, they came again and this time with a search warrant. They went to our accounts departments and made our senior doctors and administrators wait for more than six hours,” says Dr. Varghese.  

Referring to the alleged abuse, he continues, “One of them had a few months-old baby whom she wanted to feed. One of the police officers smirked at her and said that you bring him here and breastfeed him in front of us.”  

While checking the accounts, Mishra says, “We found transactions in crores. When we asked them to submit their details of bank accounts, they gave reference to four accounts but here we saw there are six and two of them are used for foreign transactions."  


“You can’t imagine their networks and money. On converting one person, they get huge money. Their business is spread across the world. They first take away your Aadhar cards and then change it to get the money from their foreign bosses," adds Mishra. 

One of the administrators of the hospital nonetheless denied the charges. The administrator says, “We hardly receive any donations except from friends. The way they tried to show transaction in crores is itself questionable.” 

“After the accounts department, they opened the community health centre where they discovered hundreds of fresh pamphlets with the message ‘if you convert to Christianity, you will get a job in the hospital and will get several other facilities like education, ration etc’. They had the keys. They had placed the guards. Then how could they find pamphlets from nowhere?” asks Dr. Varghese. The medical superintendent immediately denied to own it and clearly told the police that it was planted.  


Commenting on such accusations, Mishra asks Outlook, “They would say anything to safeguard themselves. The lock had two keys. Only when both are put together, it is opened. How could we enter the room without them?”  

Aggrieved speaks up? 

On January 23 and 24, the police consecutively filed three fresh FIRs where they claimed that the first party who were present in the alleged mass conversion of April 14 gathered courage and came out.   

Notably, when Outlook accessed the FIRs, it is found that the time difference between the first and second FIR filed on January 23 was just seven minutes. The first FIR filed by Virendra Kumar (FIR no. 0054) was filed at 11.33 pm. The second one was filed at 11.40 pm by Sanjay Singh. Both of the FIRs added 12 more names, taking the total number of named people to 47.  


Interestingly, name of Dr. Samuel Mathews had also been added to the list. 

“In April, Dr. Mathews was not even here as he was serving as an orthopaedic in one of our Uttarakhand hospitals. Now they have even implicated him,” says one of the current administrators of the society.  

Why did the original sufferers come out so late? 

Mishra says, “You can understand the fear among them. And think of which class they come from. If for some amount of money, they can change their religion, what should we expect from them? They took time, but ultimately filed the FIR to bring in the truth. Their network is not limited to the hospital and church. In Allahabad, they have the agricultural university SHUATS through which they changed the Aadhar cards.” 


Mishra also says that raids are going on in the university to gather evidence. Sources said that the Vice Chancellor of the university Bishop Rajendra B Lal has recently received interim protection from arrest from the Allahabad High Court.

On February 17, the Allahabad HC made an observation that first FIR no 224 is incompetent as it was not filed by the first party or any of their relatives. According to the Freedom of Religion Act, Uttar Pradesh, the aggrieved person or their blood relatives must register the FIR, not any third party.  

Senior legal expert Jaiwant Patankar tells Outlook, “Section 4 of the act clearly mentions that the complainant must either be the aggrieved party or their blood relatives.” 


As in the case, Himanshu Dixit was an outsider, the HC quashed it. However, FIR no 55, 56 and 60 are still maintainable until quashed.  

Till now, police are investigating 55 people and more than 30 people are behind the bars, says Mishra. 

“We are investigating different angles of the network. I know I have taken a huge task on me for the country. They are big people. To fight them is really difficult,” adds the police officer whom the hospital staff call the most ‘dreaded’.  

On the other hand, Dr. Varghese thinks that there is a possibility of his arrest as well. He says, “They can arrest me anytime. I don’t know how long I will be out.” 


In between the fear of arrests and threats of conversion, what is lost is the ‘normalcy’. One of the villagers on the condition of anonymity says, “Sab pehle jaisa nahi ho sakta? (Can’t things be like older times?)”.