Explained: why the government of Karnataka is investigating churches and why the Christian community is against it

The Karnataka High Court on Monday issued an opinion to the BJP-led state government on the basis of a petition filed by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) challenging the government’s decision to order an investigation to obtain information on churches in the state.

What is the current investigation about?

The Minority Welfare Directorate, which operates under the aegis of the Karnataka government, has asked deputy commissioners in all districts of the state to conduct a survey of the churches, citing this as data collection. A communication on this subject was published on July 7.

In accordance with the communication, the survey intends to collect data relating to churches, their address, geographic location, khata (land ownership) and survey number (of the plots from which churches operate) and the name of the priest / pastor in charge.

In addition, an internal committee of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly on Backward Classes and Minorities met on October 13 to decide on setting up another survey to control the “forced conversions” of Christian missionaries.

A day after the house committee meeting, an internal order was issued by the ADGP of the State Intelligence Department to gather information on “authorized and unauthorized” churches. The order has been sent to all of the state’s Assistant Police Superintendents (DSPs) to check churches and community prayer rooms in their respective jurisdictions.

What made the question political?

BJP deputy from Hosadurga (in Chitradurga district) Goolihatti Shekhar, during the recent monsoon session of the Karnataka Assembly, claimed religious conversions “by force or incitement” were “crawling” all over the state. The MP also said that 15,000 to 20,000 people, including his own mother, have converted to Christianity in his constituency.

Shekhar, citing statistics from the Home Office, claimed that 36 cases of forced conversion had been recorded statewide. “The threat of forced conversion is so widespread that some even convert residences into churches and Bible societies,” he said.

This prompted Interior Minister Araga Jnanendra to respond that the government would keep a “strict watch” on such alleged activities. “The issue (of religious conversions) has been brought to the attention of the government. It is a punishable offense to convert people from one religion to another by inciting them. We will keep a strict watch on such activities. There is a vast network working on religious conversions across the country, ”Jnanendra said at the time.

A week later, Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai revealed the state government’s plan present a law to ban forced religious conversions in the state.

Deputy Janata Dal (lay) Devanand Fulsing Chavan, who represents Nagthan constituency in Vijayapura district, added to the allegations against Christian missionaries, accusing them of targeting the “vulnerable Banjara community”. He explained that the district was home to 3.5 lakh of people belonging to the community and that “mass conversions” were taking place there.

By the way, Hosadurga MLA Shekhar chaired the 20-member house committee which also commissioned the survey of Christian missionaries, adding to the strong opposition within the Christian community, with several leaders calling the action simply “sporadic and trivial incidents.”

What was the response of the Christian community in Karnataka?

The Archbishop of Bangalore, Reverend Peter Machado, who is also chairman of the Karnataka Region Catholic Bishops Council, was among those in the community to respond first.

Machado, in September, led a delegation of Catholic bishops from the state to meet with Bommai express concerns on the bill to ban forced religious conversions in the state.

Expressing his displeasure at the allegations against the community, he said such statements made by elected officials were “malicious” and “false”. The bishops also noted that such a law would lead to “unnecessary community problems and turmoil” with many more controversial statements and reactions made in the wake of the same.

Although the community hoped for a positive response from the CM, who apparently stood firm (as leader Janata Dal) to support Christians when churches were vandalized in the state in 2008, Bommai reiterated that “a strong anti-conversion law will soon be enforced” in Karnataka.

Later, the Archdiocese of Bangalore wrote a second memorandum (dated October 14) to the CM – worded more strongly – stating that “the whole Christian community will not rest until the draconian order of l ‘order of the Backward Classes & Welfare department will not be completely withdrawn ”. , opposing the investigation.

This was followed by a press conference called by the All Karnataka United Christians Forum for Human Rights (AKUCFHR) in Bengaluru on October 25 when senior political leaders from the community, including the former minister of state of the Union Margaret Alva, former Home Secretary KJ George, Anglo-Indian MP Vinisha Nero and former Mangalore South MP John Richard Lobo opposed the BJP government’s decision, all saying such actions would affect the community harmony that prevails in the State.

On the same day, hundreds of community members took part in a protest in Hubballi calling on the government to revoke its proposed anti-conversion law.

“We are Indians and we lead our lives according to the Constitution. Do not make baseless allegations against us and do not victimize us, ”said Dharwad District Christian Pastors and Leaders Alliance president for the peace march, Sunil Mahade, questioning the intention government behind the ongoing investigation and proposed law.

However, the Archbishop of Bangalore said he would see Bommai again to reiterate community concern over a bill to ban “forced religious conversions” in the state.

What has been the community’s reaction to the suspected cases of conversion?

Machado said the Church would look into allegations that 36 cases of forced conversions took place in the state. “Although most of these allegations are unfounded, we will be examining these questions to ascertain whether there is any veracity in these reported incidents,” he said.

In addition, the Council of Catholic Bishops quoted in its recent memorandum to the CM that the Christian community represents only 1.8 percent of the state’s population, saying there has been little increase for declare that the anti-conversion bill had been drawn up in accordance with “the political agenda of certain parties”.

The Council of Bishops also called on all churches to direct all queries to their respective dioceses (14 in total in the state), saying the government “already has information on all the properties” from which the churches operate.

How did the Karnataka High Court react to a petition filed against the investigation?

Even though the Karnataka High Court refused to issue an interim order to stay the ongoing investigation, it asked the state government to file its objections within three weeks against the PIL filed by PUCL.

“The data has been researched by the Department of Minority Welfare and it may be for the welfare of minorities. There is nothing in the archives that shows that in any way they will persecute Christians, ”observed the Bench Division including Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi and Sachin Shankar Magadum.

In its petition, the PUCL said that a communication released on the basis of a July 7 welfare committee meeting (to initiate the ongoing investigation) was “illegal, discriminatory, arbitrary and unconstitutional, violating the right to equality and privacy under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India ”.

The High Court has said orally that it will consider making any orders after receiving the government’s response to the notice it issued on October 25.

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