Bengaluru: Karnataka has witnessed at least 39 incidents of attacks on members of the Christian community this year through November, according to data compiled by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), an organization defense of human rights. While official figures on attacks on Christians last year are not available, several activists have claimed cases have increased this year.
Activists also drew a parallel between the rise in attacks on the Christian community and pressure from the ruling Bharatiya Janata (BJP) party for an “anti-conversion” bill in the state. The Karnataka government headed by Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai created an “anti-conversion” bill to control “forced religious conversions” in the state, activists argued.
“Compared to now, there have been fewer attacks. The increase in these attacks occurred especially after the new Chief Minister (Basavaraj Bommai) took office. The CM giving assurances to pass the anti-conversion bill gave the impression that Christians are a threat to the Hindu community, ”said B Rajasekhar, president of the Christian Forum for Human Rights.
Rajasekhar had filed several complaints against the state government led by former chief minister BS Yediyurappa for failing to take action against several cases of attacks on Christians between 2003 and 2018.
The Archbishop of Bengaluru, Peter Machado, also claimed that the government’s attitude was one of the reasons for “the increase in attacks” against the Christian community. “Certain behaviors or statements of government, certain attitudes of government are the reason why these (attacks) are allowed and tolerated. This can continue and it is sad for us ”, declared the Archbishop.
He added that previously such incidents had been reported in indoor places where there were fewer community members and small churches. “But what is happening in Hubballi, Dharwad, Bengaluru means people are taking justice into their own hands,” Machado said.
The issue of forced conversions has escalated after BJP lawmaker Goolihatti Shekar recently appealed against the practice, saying his mother was also a “victim”. In September, Shekar said his mother was among those in Chitradurga District who had been “brainwashed” by “missionaries”. He claimed that people from “marginalized communities and even Muslims were being converted”, or that they had been slapped with false accusations, and that about 15,000 to 20,000 people in his constituency were may be converted. Shekar had presided over an event in which at least five families “were brought back” to the Hindu fold, including his mother, on September 11.
However, an investigation by a tehsildar in Hosadurga debunked this claim. In his report, the tehsildar said that all “believers who attend prayers in the five churches of Hosadurga taluk do so voluntarily and no one has been coerced.” In addition, the tehsildar also visited two areas where reports on social media alleged that forced conversions were underway. His report indicated that while eight people who had converted to Christianity converted back to their original religion, no one complained that they had been forced to convert.
The tehsildar was transferred without assignment on December 16.
A PUCL report, titled “Criminalizing the Practice of the Faith,” listed 39 incidents of hate crimes against the Christian community, stating that in some cases “the police department and some politicians have colluded with organizations right wing to carry out these attacks ”.
Karnataka Police Director General Praveen Sood, however, dismissed the allegations. “We have been impartial in taking action against anyone who engages in such activities, regardless of religion and caste. As the media themselves have reported, a considerable number of FIRs (First Information Reports) have been registered and people have been arrested. We have taken action, ”Sood said.
The PUCL report also highlighted the shift in the Christian population in India to deflate the claim of forced mass conversion. He said that according to the 1971 census, Christians made up 2.60% of India’s population. “In 1981, they [Christians] were 2.44%; in 1991, 2.33%; in 2001, 2.18% and currently it is 2.30%, ”the report states. The document adds that according to the 2011 census, Christians represented 1.87% of the population of Karnataka. “So the statistics do not suggest that the Christian population is increasing,” the report said.
Aakar Patel, author and former executive director of Amnesty International India, said the “anti-conversion” laws introduced in BJP-ruled states across the country were “part of a deliberate plan”.
“After 2018, five BJP governments passed these (anti-conversion) laws. Freedom of religion, especially the fundamental right to propagate religion, has been taken away from Christians over the years. Today, Karnataka has become the first southern state to draft a bill for such a law. Since hate crimes are not a category on official records, we don’t have the exact numbers, but anecdotal evidence suggests these attacks are on the increase. We can also assume that these (attacks) in concert with the passing of the laws are deliberate, ”Patel said.
Likewise, Karnataka has also reported an increase in self-defense cases by Hindu groups, especially in the coastal areas of the state. According to PUCL data, Karnataka has witnessed at least 22 cases of moral policing by Hindu vigilantes in the 11 months of this year through November, a 175% jump from the eight cases reported in 2020 .
Campaigners have claimed an increase in such cases after Bommai took over as chief minister in July. In October, Bommai fueled controversy with his statements that appeared to justify incidents of moral policing and community discord in the state.
However, the Karnataka BJP dismissed all allegations as unfounded and an attempt to “scare” certain “sections of a community”.
Former MLC Ganesh Karnik, who is the chief spokesperson for BJP in Karnataka, said: “This is propaganda carried out by selected sections of this (Christian) community, which wants to sow fear in the community. within minorities. There are problems within the community. In Mangaluru, a few years ago, the Roman Catholic community claimed that certain marginal Christian elements were trying to convert within the Christian community. In the name of prayer meetings, they get involved in religious conversion. The organization that publishes studies should also study this.
He added: “Regarding the allegations made against senior government and party leaders, this is simply an attempt to tarnish their image and distract from the work they are doing.”