St. Joseph’s Hospice Saga Reveals Extra-Constitutional Clout of Christian Institutions

Skeletons have literally started tumbling out of St.Joseph’s Hospice for the destitute since the morning the locals of Kanchipuram caught an ambulance escorting two healthy elderly people with a corpse and some sacks claimed to contain vegetables for the hospice.

On 20th February, a beacon fitted vehicle was stopped by the locals at Salavakkam when a passerby heard cries of “Save me! Save me!” from the vehicle. Apparently that passerby didn’t care for it at first, but the pleading face of Annamal (71) who shouted so made him turn back and stop the vehicle. Annamal, after being rescued by the locals, said that she ran away from her home after a misunderstanding with her family. She was found by the police who sent her to St.Joseph’s Hospice’s branch at Tambaram.

As per the hospice’s website, Tambaram branch can only accommodate 30 persons, as it was founded for the purpose of acting as a ‘collection centre’. There, the woman saw 2 dead persons on arrival and asked to be released since she was only looking for an old age home. She said she didn’t want to live amidst the corpses, despite which she was kept there for two days. After that, 2 visiting doctors examined her, declared her healthy and advised to release her the next day as she wanted to go home anyway. On the next day, when she asked about it, she was angrily told to get on the vehicle to which she took objection and asked to be sent through bus. She said on air that she begged the driver to at least drop her at Tambaram as she can go home from there on her own. But no one seemed to have paid heed to her requests as she was rescued on the way from Tambaram to Paleswaram branch.

St.Joseph’s Hospices were founded and run by one Fr. Thomas using funds raised through an FCRA NGO ‘Light for the Blind-India’ which receives funds mainly from a charity in UK, ‘Light for the Blind’. Mr. Thomas claimed in a press meet that it only constitutes 35% of the total funds and their papers are clear. While the headquarters is in a village in Dindigul, three other branches are there in Tambaram, Vellore and Paleswaram.

Even as the vehicle was seized and taken to the police station (the driver escaped but was arrested later), the local residents protested against the police and the district administration for not taking any action against the hospice despite repeated complaints for six years.

The institution started operating in March 2011; a team of officials from the Social Welfare and police departments inspected the campus in February 2012 after the local residents who were annoyed, as reported by The Hindu, brought unauthorised disposal of corpses to the notice of the media.

Mr. Thomas couldn’t produce proper documents for notifying the Village Administrative Officer (VAO) of the deaths or permitting him to build the vault cemetery structure. He said that he used to ‘inform’ the VAO. He is saying the same even now. But how long ago he used to inform is not clear.

Back in 2012 he told the Social welfare officer that he explained the reusable vault method to the Superintendent of Police (SP) for Kanchipuram while obtaining an NOC for it. However, he could only produce a covering letter addressed to the SP requesting him to do so. In the recent press meet, he said that he approached the district collector for permission, who then asked him to get the approval of SP and that the SP gave him ‘permission’. He read out a letter he claimed to be from the SP containing words such as ‘permission granted’ and claimed that it’s the license. No media has cared to publish the copy of that letter, even though the most serious accusation has been about the legality of the burial vault.

However, The Hindus Tamil report clearly says that it was only a copy of the recommendation letter from the SP to the district collector. The process of getting permission to have a burial/cremation ground is to approach the municipality/panchayat who will have to pass a resolution in the council to issue the license.

Here is an excerpt of a judgement on issues regarding establishing a burial vault cemetery like that in St.Joseph’s Hospice’s grounds:

The petitioner Church owns an extent of 53.5 cents of dry land comprised in Sy.No.1492/4 of Madakkathara Village. The petitioner had submitted an application for the purpose of constructing a “vault type cemetery” in the property. Ext.P2 is the said application. The fourth respondent passed a resolution after considering the application, at its meeting on 15.12.2010 recommending that it had no objection to the grant of a license to construct the cemetery. The District Medical Officer also recommended the construction of the cemetery as per Ext.P5.

On the basis of the above recommendations, a license was issued to the petitioner Church as per Ext.P6 by the Panchayat for the construction of the cemetery. The second respondent thereupon forwarded the same to the fifth respondent for the purpose of conduct of an enquiry  W.P.(C).No.7060 of 2013 and report regarding the proposal.

The District Collector thereafter issued a public notice in the Malayalam Manorama daily dated 17.8.2012 inviting objections from the general public. Thereafter the District Collector heard the objections and by Ext.P12 order declined to grant permission to the petitioner to conduct the cemetery. The permission has been declined for the reason that, the persons residing in the locality had expressed an apprehension that there would be pollution if the cemetery is established as proposed.”

All Mr. Thomas had in his possession was the applications and the recommendation letter from SP, which he apparently paraphrased while reading it out to media.

These vault structures have a 27ft deep pit at the back where the remains, i.e., bones, as the flesh supposedly melts in the tropical heat, are pushed in and the new corpse is placed. As per the Christian personal law, a grave is supposed to be reopened only after 14 years. Now whether it’s the pit or the vaults to which this rule applies is unclear.

The New Indian Express reports locals claiming that the vaults were cleared every few months. It also says that the rules mandate that the remains in vaults be cleared only once in 13 years. The issue with this method is that even in Kerala, where Mr. Thomas claims that it is widely used, there are no provisions in the law that make it legal. It was taken up only as an alternative in the face of space constraints and the municipality council presented it in the meeting to obtain permission.

It is a mystery that even after nearly 3 decades, no clear rules have been formed for this specific method of burial. The vaults in Kerala have plaques consisting of the name and details of the dead person. But the ones in Paleswaram and Dindigul have no such details which brings two questions to our minds. Did Mr. Thomas who feels his ‘service’ to the poorest of the poor is ‘misunderstood & deliberately slandered’ think that the destitute don’t deserve to be remembered? Are the number of deaths given by him (1590) false? This question arises because the capacity of the vault cemetery is 4000 as told by him in the press meet, and by all accounts the vaults have been reopened multiple times.

How vault graves work

Is he collecting the bodies and showcasing them to show the world the number of blind souls he ‘rescued’ and ‘cared’ for by showing them the light? One more detail to be noticed is that the graves in Kerala contain coffins which are absent in St. Joseph’s Hospices. Dead inmates are simply wrapped in a cloth and put inside the vault. If Mr. Thomas is so concerned about the environment, shouldn’t he have chosen cremation – as 96% of the dead were Hindus anyway? Did he even ask those Hindu inmates what kind of funeral they preferred – cremation or funeral…or such ‘pagan’ choices don’t matter?

The advertisement put out by the diocese of Leeds in London, where Mr. Thomas worked in the past, asking for donations from its parishioners almost appears to be boasting when it says he looks after 750 patients with 3 deaths taking place on an average everyday.

In his own words, Mr. Thomas’s hospices aren’t for providing medical facilities. They only work on ‘relieving’ the pain of those who are on their deathbed (shades of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity?). They don’t have resident doctors. They only have nurses and caretakers. Who decides whether a person really is on her/his deathbed? If the visiting doctor deems a person physically and mentally fit, does the hospice send them home? If yes, then why was Annamal not sent back home? How many such innocents were kept locked up in the hospices?

Locals alleged that some inmates escape at night and they call police but the police calls the hospice and they’re taken back to the building. They can claim them to be mentally unsound, but how do we know? Annamal was found by the assistant parish priest of Little Mount parish who called the police and got recommendation from them to admit her in St. Joseph’s Hospice – this is what Mr. Thomas said in the press meet. She was not taken from a hospital. Who declared her mentally unsound? Are both the police and doctors in on the scam to send even healthy people to the hospices to wash their hands off the responsibility or for money?

The Hindu (Tamil)’s report further says that on being asked questions like – has the district collector granted permission? If yes, where is the license? Why hasn’t the Church come out in support of you? – Mr. Thomas didn’t have any answer. Reporters were shown a complaint given to the CM written on a fake letter pad in the name of United Christian Society. When the registration details of the organisation were sought, there was no reply.

Further as per The News Minute’s report, an employee at the Paleswaram branch said “We don’t know their religion or caste so we bury them in this manner.” But Mr. Thomas claimed 96% of the dead were Hindus. He also told that they couldn’t obtain death certificate for everyone as they didn’t know everyone’s name. How did he find out their religions then? The same employee also said that the bones that remain are picked up and burnt after a few months. Any wonder that locals allege illegal bone smuggling? More gruesome details have emerged about possible organ harvesting at the hospices.

Following the inspection in the Paleswaram branch, Dindigul district officials visited the headquarters of St. Joseph’s Hospice that’s located on Kodai road. It was established in 2006. An old man staying there says he was getting treatment in Trichy GH (General Hospital) for wounds on his leg. After a week or so he was brought to the hospice even though they said that he was being shifted to casual ward. He doesn’t feel comfortable as he can’t even have some tea if he so wishes. Food is not good; drinking water isn’t hygienic (he cries while saying this).

Another inmate says he arrived with two others and both of them are dead. He further adds that they get beaten if they ask for anything. A worker says they have all necessary certificates. They register details of the dead with the VAO & have copies of it. But the dead are identified as orphans and so they can’t get death certificates; only the kin of the dead would be able to get it; which makes one wonder if they inform the relatives at all if an inmate is dead.

There is also an allegation that Erode DSW (District Social Welfare) officials sent 21 persons in a single day on an anti-beggar drive – 18 of whom were sent back to their homes by the hospice management. The District Revenue Officer told the reporters that they have some letter from the SP given in 2006 to bury those who die in the hospice inside its campus. But nothing is mentioned about the method of burial. She also said that even though they say that the DSWO, who has been in the post for 2 years now, has visited 5 times, they maintain no record whatsoever for any official inspection from the time of the hospice’s inception. When the current DSP was asked about the illegality of burying the dead in vaults, he refused to answer.

Dindigul hospice houses 239 inmates in total, out of which 92 are mentally ill patients. Including the administrative staff, it only contains 11 employees. In Mr.Thomas’s own words, a hospice only provides palliative care not investigative treatment. Both the website and numerous other promotional videos on St. Joseph’s Hospice claim that the mentally ill get recovered through the care provided there.

The Hindu reports “Hundreds of aged women sought the help of the committee to get out of the hospice. They explained to the team members the “torture and humiliation” they faced in the home for a long time. Some alleged that supervisors beat them up and banged their heads against the wall. They were not allowed to go home. One of the inmates told that she did not know how she came to this hospice from the government hospital “I was admitted to the GH for treatment. When I woke up, I was here,” she said.”

Mentally ill inmates are made to work in the hospice without proper treatment

Mr. Thomas said that 1560 inmates died while in the hospice’s possession and were buried in its vaults. Whether it’s the number for Paleswaram branch or constitutes of the deaths in all 5 branches is unclear. Anyone who dies in any branch is buried in their vaults. Below is a screenshot from the hospice’s website.

It says more than 1900 people have died in the Dindigul campus till January 2016. 1500 people are said to be dead and buried in the Dindigul branch as per this Tamil MSM report. Real number of the dead seems to be a mystery so far.

Nowhere has the question “Is it registered as an old age home?” been clearly asked – it isn’t one as clearly explained by Mr. Thomas himself. The public furore and murky activities has caused the government to order probes which has resulted in sealing of the Paleswaram and Vellore branches.

Vellore branch, which was started an year ago, was found to have no certificates or license. 9 children were found in the Paleswaram campus who were said to have “legitimate reasons” to stay in the campus as their parents work there. Kanchipuram Child Welfare Committee demanded that the children be handed over to them as housing them in such facilities is a violation of Juvenile Justice Act. CWC has given time till 5th March to produce documents regarding their parentage.

Meanwhile, inmates of the Paleswaram and Vellore branches have been sent back home, to proper old age homes and hospitals based on their needs and wishes. However, it appears that government officials hesitate to take stringent action against the hospice as taking care of 600 plus elderly people isn’t an easy task. Mr. Thomas has openly thrown the challenge at the government to take over his institutions as he feels confident that a corrupt state cannot provide such service. He implied that it was due to corrupt officials that he couldn’t renew the sanitary certificate in time.

It looks like the Church has decided to back him and take this chance to cry persecution. Rev. Anthonysamy, Vicar General of the archdiocese of Madras has directed the priests to inform their parishioners about the protest held on 4th March with the diocese of Chengalpat. A petition by a group of priests submitted to the Kanchipuram collector said that they see the crackdown against St. Joseph’s Hospice as actions against Christianity and Christian services and that it increases their sense of fear.

It seems apart from GHs and police stations, St. Joseph’s Hospices also received inmates from other homes run >by fellow Christians, one of which is ‘Shanthi Villa’ run by Sisters of the Cross of Chavanod. In their website, they claim that destitute men are sent to St. Joseph’s Hospice in Dindigul after first aid –  which begs the question whether Shanthi Villa is also a hospice.

During the reception of the bishop of Leeds, who came to bless the Paleswaram hospice, the Church of Tamil Nadu was represented by the Archbishop of Chennai, the Archbishop of Madurai, the Bishop of Chengalpat and the Administrator of the Diocese of Dindigul. For 4 important persons to come to the event, Mr. Thomas must be influential enough. He must also have more than sufficient reach and connections to procure people for his hospices and cover his crimes.

This has been further proved by the fact that a team of TMMK leader MH Jawahirullah (a radical Islamist politician, who was the founder of terror organization Al-Umma & was arrested in the 1998 Coimbatore bomb blast), Comrade Thyagu (General secretary of Communist org. Tamil National Liberation Movement, who quit college to join the Naxalite movement) and others inspected the hospice and pronounced Mr. Thomas not guilty and demanded that he be let to run the Hospice.

This team was sent by an NGO ‘People’s Watch’, whose real name MSM repeatedly fails to publicise. People’s Watch is a program unit of CPSC whose FCRA license was cancelled in 2016 as it was found to have indulged in “activities that are inimical to the national interest”.

Mr.Thomas filed a writ petition in Madras HC against the government’s decision to close his hospices, against which the court has issued a stay order till March 23rd. In the meantime, media management to establish the innocence of Mr. Thomas, and possibly a campaign for a new entity to be set up to help establish and monitor ‘Hospices’, something the Indic society wouldn’t have needed if not for the Abrahamic beliefs destroying our lifestyle and values through government policies, harmful education and pop culture, has already begun.


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