Doctor’s Legal Struggle Reflects Wider Harassment of Christians in India

HYDERABAD, India, February 7, 2019 (Morning Star News) – Emergency medicine doctor Christo Thomas Philip was returning with his family to his native India from a medical conference in Greece when immigration officials at Delhi’s Indira Ghandi International Airport took him into custody.

His deportation from India on that day, April 26, 2016, came after working for three years treating destitute people on the verge of death from snakebites, HIV, diphtheria, tuberculosis and heart failure, among other conditions, in Raxaul, a remote area of eastern India’s Bihar state. He was planning to return to his work there at the emergency care unit of Duncan Hospital.

“My wife and children were allowed entry back into the country,” Philip, 36, told Morning Star News. “But as soon as my passport was scanned, I was surrounded by multiple Indian immigration officials, taken into custody and was informed that I had an hour to leave the country.”

At age 10 Philip had migrated with his family to the United States, where he was educated. He had a life-time visa to India and an Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card, but the immigration officials confiscated the card and his passport, telling him only that he was no longer welcome on orders of the Consulate General of India in Houston, Texas.

“It broke my heart to see my family from behind the cordoned-off section of the immigration detention centre. It was hard to watch my three young children crying, not knowing when they would see me again,” the Christian doctor told Morning Star News.

His children were 11, 9 and 7 at the time. He recalled sitting in his seat on the flight back to Istanbul, Turkey, the transit point from which he’d arrived, tears filling his eyes as he watched India disappear from view through the window, he said.

“Being deported from India and being separated from my wife and three young children was one of the most difficult days of my life,” he said. “It was hard to see my wife knowing that there was nothing she could do – realizing that I had never been this far away from her since we were married.”

In Istanbul, officials locked him in a detention cell with 25 others for 24 hours, until he could board a flight to Spain, a prior transit point, the next day.

“It was one of the darkest moments in my life to have my freedom taken away even though I had done nothing wrong except sacrifice a comfortable and lucrative life in the U.S. to serve those that were marginalized in India,” he said. “It was devastating to me and my family when I was ordered to leave this country and the people I love so much, with no explanation other than that the government no longer considered me welcome.”

From court records of the battle he fought for the next three years to regain his right to return to India, Philip could not detect who directed the consulate in Houston to order his deportation, he said. But he has not been the only Christian deported since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu extremist Bharatiya Janata Party assumed power in 2014.

His deportation was not an isolated case, as he became aware of numerous other individuals and families working with engineering organizations, hospitals or small businesses that were deported from India around the same time, he said.

“The only common thread among the deportations was that the individuals involved were Christians or working with Christian organizations in India,” he said. “We are also aware that it was the policy of the government to place individuals on a blacklist without informing them of such an action being taken, and the only time someone would find out about the blacklist was when they were trying to enter India.”

The failure to issue notices to the blacklisted Christians appears to have been intentional to prevent any type of judicial review since, once deported, they have limited legal ability to make legal challenges, he said.

REASONS FOR DEPORTATION

With legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom-India (ADF-India) handling Philip’s case, the native of southern India’s Kerala state filed three petitions to the High Court of Delhi over the past three years seeking the reasons for his deportation.

In response to a petition filed in 2016, the counsel representing the government submitted in court that the consulate in Houston cancelled his visa because he was found to be engaging in “evangelical and subversive” activities. It further recommended that immigration authorities cancel the Christian’s OCI card.

In August 2017, officials passed an order under Section 7D (e) of the Citizenship Act that the cancelation of his OCI and lifetime visa was necessary in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of the Indian subcontinent and its security and friendly relations with foreign countries, all in the interest of the general public. The order also cited involvement in missionary activities as the reason for Philip being blacklisted, preventing his re-entry into India.

The High Court permitted him to challenge the August 2017 order. But immigration authorities and the ministry of foreign affairs rejected the application, claiming he was involved in missionary and evangelical activities, and that he had suppressed his real purpose of conversion activities by carrying out medical work.

The officials said he was responsible for acting against the interest of general public, causing unrest and law and order problems.

Aggrieved by the narrative built against him, Philip through his ADF attorneys filed the third petition. Last month High Court of Delhi Justice Vibhu Bakhru ruled in a 23-page judgment that two matters had to be decided: First, whether the consulate had any reason to require the cancellation of Philip’s rights “in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India or in the interest” of the general public; and second, whether engaging in missionary activities in India was against the law.

The court called on authorities to produce all relevant materials that had led to the cancellation of Philip’s OCI. Government counsel Rajesh Gogna submitted a one-page report asserting that Philip was born in the United States, was registered with a U.S. missionary organization, was practicing medicine at Duncan Hospital in India and that he violated rules prohibiting missionary activities by OCI card-holders.

The report also expressed doubt that Philip had obtained a license from the Medical Council of India, although he had obtained one in 2014.

The court stated that the report contained untruths and requested that authorities submit the materials on which the assertions were based.

In response, immigration authorities, embassy and Houston consulate officials and the Ministry of External Affairs submitted printouts of blogs posted on the Web.

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Source: Christian Headlines