Karnataka: fear of intimidation grips Christian community after adoption of anti-conversion law

In the wee hours of December 23, the statue of Saint Anthony in the 150-year-old Church of Saint Joseph was vandalized by disbelievers in the Susaipalaya region of the Chikballapur district, 65 km from the capital of the State, Bangalore. The attack came for hours before the passage of litigation Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Act, 2021. The priest noticed the damaged idol when he arrived at the church at 6 am for prayer.

The police did not file any complaints against the vandalism of the statue; instead, he suggested replacing the broken statue, as a church official informed on condition of anonymity. The policeman from the circle did not respond to calls for comment.

Likewise, on Christmas, a mob of Hindu vigilantes broke into a convent in Mandya district and disrupted a small Christmas meeting. They yelled at the teachers and forced them to stop the celebration, accusing them of “converting” Hindu children to Christianity and ordering teachers to put up posters of Hindu gods on the premises.

After the attack on the church in Chikkaballapur, the number of incidents rose to 40 statewide. The details were made public by the recently released People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) report, which documented attacks on the Christian community from January to November of this year.

Pastor Devendhrappa Lamani

One of the victims of the right-wing aggression in Karnataka is Pastor Devendhrappa Lamani. On January 3, 2021, in the village of Abbigeri in the Koppal district, he was severely manhandled by a crowd of around 20 people. The crowd dragged Pastor Devendhrappa Jamalappa Lamani from a house where he was teaching the Bible to three other Christian families around 6 p.m. In foul language, they accused him of tarnishing their culture by introducing a foreign faith and castigated him as a disloyal traitor to his homeland. Widespread attacks similar to those above took place in the districts of Vijaypura, Haveri, Belagavi, Kolar, Gulbarga, Hubli and Belgaum.

The 75-page report entitled “Criminalising Practice of Faith – A Report” by PUCL Karnataka on Hate crimes against Christians in Karnataka cites 39 cases of violence between January and November 2021 statewide.

He alleges the complicity of the police in almost all cases where the local police had actively colluded to embolden self-defense groups which attacked Christians and to file a complaint against Article 295 A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage the religious feelings of any class by insulting their religion or beliefs) and Article 298 (Pronunciation, words, etc., with the deliberate intention of hurting the religious feelings of any person) of the IPC (Indian Penal Code) ) against pastors and believers in the community.

Currently, “religious freedom laws / ordinances” exist in nine states, including Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, Odisha and Gujarat. Karnataka is the 10th state to do so.

Hundreds of people from at least 40 socio-political organizations demonstrated on December 23 in Bengaluru against Karnataka’s 2021 Right to Religious Freedom Act, commonly known as the Anti-Conversion Bill.

Karnataka Interior Minister Araga Jnanendra, two days before the Christmas celebrations, made a controversial statement and said: “If they (Christian clergy and religious leaders) do not make forced conversions, then they (the right-wing protesters) would not stop them and create a ruckus. “The Karnataka minister further said that the state government had data to prove the growing number of these alleged forced conversions but, after a further examination, revealed that these data are based on allegations and not on recorded cases.

The point of instigating the recent subjugation of Christians made a public entry in July when the Bharatiya Janata party government offered to investigate “official and unofficial churches and Bible societies aimed at preventing conversions. presumed religious ”. The proposal was supported by Goolihatti Shekar, BJP lawmaker from Hosadurga and acting chair of the Committee on the Welfare of Backward Classes and Minorities. Shekhar asserted that religious conversions “by force or incitement” were “crawling” across the state. The MP also said that 15,000 to 20,000 people, even his mother, had converted.

The uproar took on political dimensions and turned into a coercive attempt by the state to hunt down Christians. These attempts met with strong resistance from the community and first of all from the Archbishop of Bangalore, Archbishop Father, Peter Machado. He is also president of the Council of Catholic Bishops of the Karnataka region.

Archbishop of Bangalore, Peter Machado

In September, Machado led the very first delegation of Catholic bishops to meet with Chief Minister BS Bommai and expressed his grievances against the bill banning religious conversions and the “malicious” and “baseless” allegations made by public officials who could stir up anti-Christian sentiments. The concern turned out to be true, as incidents of assault on the community increased than before.

On December 15, members of right-wing groups set fire to Christian religious books alleging religious conversion by the church in the town of Srinivaspur, in the district of Kolar, about 65 km from Bangalore. Police later clarified that the Bible, the holy book of Christians, was not among the objects set on fire by members of the right.

In an exclusive conversation with NewsClick, Archbishop Peter Machado said: “The sporadic attacks on Christians across Karnataka have been going on for a long time, but this year has seen a peak. This has worsened since the BJP lawmaker’s internal allegations about the forced conversion of mother and villager. Prior to that, three surveys of churches and Christians were commissioned between July and October, which did not work well with the community as it would have led to bad behavior with community members . Yet it did. Tehsildars had found 45 cases of conversion – this too on free will without force or inducements etc. ”

“The law would lead to organized vandalism by vigilante groups who violate the law by carrying out searches, investigations and disturbing the population. This would give the groups carte blanche to attack anyone. This was not necessary because the existing rules are sufficient to control any wrongdoing. like a forced religious conversion. However, this ostensibly marks Christians and makes them vulnerable, ”Machado added, while referring to the situation after the adoption of the anti-conversion law.

The government’s intention to hunt down the community came to light when Y Thippeswamy, the tehsildar, or Hosadurga tax officer in the Chitradurga district of Karnataka (who investigated the BJP deputy’s allegations of forced conversions) was transferred without reason given. He revealed it in an interview with a media.

The writer, a freelance journalist based in Bihar, is visiting Karnataka.

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