Sad chapter of anti-conversion law for Christian community: Archbishop of Bengaluru
As anti-minority incidents become more frequent and feelings intense, Archbishop of Bangalore Pierre Machado recount DHit is Chiranjeevi Kulkarni that the patterns of harmony that people have long developed are being destroyed. Excerpts:
You had asked the Chief Minister to drop the anti-conversion bill, but it has since been passed by the Assembly. Has the government taken your opinions into account?
Let me start by saying that this was a sad chapter for the Christian community. The fact that the bill was propelled by a majority community for whom we have done so much through our affordable educational institutions has resulted in a crisis of confidence and a crisis of confidence.
I can understand that there are examples of what they consider to be a violent or fraudulent type (of conversion). However, there are enough rules and regulations to take care of it. Can they ban all traffic on the road because there have been accidents? We are law-abiding citizens. We ourselves do not encourage forced and fraudulent conversions. The government can take action in such cases. But empowering the fringe elements and acting on their (claims)… It’s a sad business.
Last October, you said you would investigate the 36 alleged cases of forced conversion. What did you find?
We have a legal commission that investigated the 36 cases. We found that almost all of them were false complaints. Of course, we were unable to obtain details of some incidents involving personal matters. For example, the conversion aspect was added to a real estate litigation case. In another case, a girl ran away with a boy she was in love with, and conversion was added to it. The police told us that those who complained never came for questioning afterwards. They didn’t even appear in court. Thus, the cases collapsed. We understood that their (complainants’) intention was more to scare the community, especially the villagers.
Do they frighten the community as a whole? There were elopements earlier too..
It is a strange phenomenon. But love is blind. A Hindu man who marries a Christian woman or vice versa cannot be illegal. In such cases, our first approach should be to respect their choice. Let’s go so far as to suggest to the two adults that it wouldn’t be ideal for them to practice their own faith. Then it’s their life. We should leave it to them.
Is the targeting of Christians a threat to Dalits, especially those who have converted to Christianity?
Yes. The night the (anti-conversion) bill was passed, about 40 human rights groups came here and explained how it affected the lower strata of society. Women who are already not free to marry by choice will suffer. Secondly, Dalits will have no freedom to continue their education.
In most of our schools, we reserve a percentage of places for Dalits, with the highest fee reductions. The bill essentially sends a warning to Christians not to try to be charitable to Dalits, and a warning to Dalits not to accept our help. We will be in trouble if we help, because we have to explain a lot to help a Dalit. This will essentially deny them (the Dalits) education.
It has been just over a month since a church in Mulbagal was demolished. What are your concerns afterwards?
On Good Friday we remember the crucifixion of Jesus through the Stations of the Cross by taking a procession up a hill. In some places our people had taken it for granted that they could use mounds near churches for the ritual and placed the cross on the hill. It’s been a tradition for 50, 60 or even 100 years. Now the government seems to have said that could not be allowed. It started with Harobele, then Doddasagarahalli, Chikkaballapura and other places. Mulbagal was the sixth incident. We had documents to prove the legality of the structure. The tahsildar didn’t even give us a chance. We even asked him to allow us to move the cross. But the whole structure was demolished in the middle of the night. There were over 300 people who stood up and cried. I had given strict instructions not to protest. We will follow the path of peace and take legal remedies.
The investigation of the churches is another problem. Is your administration ready to admit that there are churches without the necessary documents?
There are about 15 permissions and permissions required for a church. But some churches may not have a certain authorization. For example, a church built 100 years ago may not follow rules that came much later. Second, there may be a violation of some aspect of the laws, such as a regulation for which we are prepared to take corrective action. If one intends to find fault, one can find it. The question is, why is the government only targeting one community? Why not apply this rule to everyone? My request to the government is: Help all religious structures by allowing them to take corrective action.
Leaders from the UK, US and other countries spoke about the persecution of minorities in India. Is there a perception of threat within the community here?
In today’s digital world, every development reaches every corner of the world. Bengaluru has been at the center of the world due to its culture and development. When things go wrong, naturally, it also becomes news. The UK and the US may have taken notice because the incidents relate to human rights. People come and invest in Bangalore, not just for the money. It is because we are a center of research, education, culture and harmony. But I am sad to say that the government is putting on a sad face before the world. There is an erosion of the culture of harmony. I get a lot of complaints from community members. First the Christians were targeted, now it’s the Muslims.
As far as linguistic rights are concerned, the idea of making Hindi the lingua franca is gaining ground…
A nation needs a liaison language. However, for lack of other languages, English has already become a liaison language. I would be happy to learn Hindi or Kannada. Each language opens up a rich culture. However, I think that no language should be imposed. Whenever it is imposed, we tend to hate it.
Meat shops were forced to close on Rama Navami…
This is a sad moment for our democracy. Food is a human right. I am free to eat whatever I want. You have the freedom to refuse it when I offer it to you. Why should someone dictate what to eat? First it was the hijab, now it’s meat and the boycott of shops and materials. Tomorrow, will these leaders tell us that a person in the emergency room should not donate blood because the donor belongs to another community, or prohibit a doctor from operating on a patient belonging to another community? Where are we going with this? We have lived for centuries in harmony. Watch the Karaga procession that first goes to a Dargah before going to other temples. In turn, Muslims go to the temple first when celebrating the festival. People have developed patterns of harmony that are being destroyed.
Some thinkers have pointed out that a weaker opposition has failed to protect the democratic rights of minorities. What is your opinion?
I don’t like human rights being confused with politics. The parties favor us at certain times and oppose us at other times. It is not a good thing. I would say that the good governance that Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi talks about is very important. The ruling party should take care of the welfare of all the people. Mahatma Gandhi said minorities needed more care because of their vulnerability. Imposing a uniform culture and language is not possible. India is a multicultural society with each state having different languages each of which has different dialects. It’s a beautiful rainbow of colors. Unfortunately, political parties encourage small groups to pit one community against another.
Check out the latest DH videos here: