Field Notes: ‘No One Will Talk To You’


Aap se koi baat nahi karega (no one will talk to you).

It was a comment I often heard from a lawyer based in Prayagraj since June 2023 when I set out to track down those accused of involvement in what was supposedly the largest conversion case in India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh (UP).

Hundreds of men and women were booked in four FIRs registered at the Kotwali police station in the eastern UP town of Fatehpur. Those named in these complaints had already spent time in jail, some up to 100 days, and wanted to avoid reporters, fearing State reprisals. 

As is always the case, when covering any story related to minorities, journalists are often asked whether speaking out or sharing a photo would cause them any dikkat (problem) with the local administration. And so, one of the foremost challenges while filing this story was getting some of the protagonists to talk. 

It was only after repeated assurances that this story was, in fact, a sincere attempt to put their version in the public domain that some persons like A* (who didn’t want to reveal his identity) associated with the Broadwell Hospital and Pastor Vijay Masih from the Evangelical Church of India agreed to speak.

So, technically, A and Masih were the alleged perpetrators of the mass conversion case. Both were cagey when it came to speaking to a reporter. Their inhibition also stemmed from the fact that they had chosen to stay back in Fatehpur, unlike several who had left the city. 

While speaking to me, someone from Broadwell Hospital was apprehensive about whether his mobile number was still under surveillance. 

Even the legal fraternity didn’t feel confident enough to speak on the matter. “You never know when my name can be added to one of the FIRs”, said one of the lawyers familiar with the case. 

This high-profile case had been reported extensively earlier, and yet the chargesheet submitted by the SIT (Special Investigation Team) seemed to have missed everyone’s attention. 

What evidence links individuals across four Christian-run institutions with a mass conversion case? With this sheer curiosity, I began sifting through the 700-page document submitted at the Chief Judicial Magistrate’s court. 

Statements comprising a “Mission UP” theory alleging a state-wide conversion conspiracy, transcripts of a public event ‘Yeshu ka Darbar’ and testimonies of the labharthis  (beneficiaries of conversion) formed the crux of how the police were building their case against 201 persons implicated in the matter. 

The issue with each of these has been explained in detail in the story based on my investigation of cross-checking claims made in the chargesheet with those involved in the case, along with comments from legal experts and a former police official. 

Some discrepancies, like the filing of the initial FIR on behalf of a VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) leader, who, on account of being a third party and not a victim, comes under the category of illegal complainant, was just the tip of the iceberg. 

In our analysis of the chargesheet, we found other anomalies as well. 

These included the SIT’s reliance on statements by anonymous shopkeepers that implicated the church. In yet another batch of 47 statements, the labharthis mentioned items received from the NGO, but there was no specific mention of the word conversion.

So, how do simple acts of charity become criminal acts of offering allurement to convert? 

I tried to answer this question in my story, part three of a series (part 1 & part 2), based on cases related to UP’s anti-conversion law.  

My reporting made me aware that human anxieties often had strange ways of manifesting themselves. 

“Let me send you a photo, jo door ka ho (clicked from a distance),” pastor Vijay Masih told me during our conversation. 

The fear in his tone was palpable. 

You can read Akanksha Kumar’s full story here

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