One Sunday last October, he was surprised when Pastor Somu Avarathi walked into his church in Hubli, Karnataka, in the south Indian state.
“People were sitting inside singing Hindu songs and chanting slogans,” he said. BBC.
The pastor called the police, but when they arrived the protesters accused him of abusing a Hindu and forcing him to convert to Christianity.
The pastor was arrested – on charges of “insulting any religious sentiments” – and spent 12 days in jail before being released on bail.
This is not an isolated incident: the report of the Evangelical Society of India (EFI) is listed 39 threats or cases of violence against Christians from January to November In Karnataka this year.
These include incidents of alleged attacks on pastors by members of right-wing Hindu groups, and incidents in which these groups allegedly physically prevented them from conducting religious services in their churches.
Christians a Minorities compared to the majority Hindus In India.
That is what the Christian delegates promiseThe Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has increased the frequency of attacks since October., Which is in power in Karnataka and nationally, has announced that it is developing a “strong” law against religious conversion in the state.
Critics have described the current draft of the bill as “tough”: that includes Imprisonment for up to 10 years Criminals who have “forcibly”, fraudulently converted others through marriage. It is also advisable to deny government concessions to those who convert from one religion to another.
Each case will be examined. Those who decide to convert should inform the local authorities two months in advance and they will investigate the reasons before allowing the conversion.
Christian leaders fear the new bill will further encourage Hindu extremists. According to the audience, the fear is increasing The increasingly polarized environment under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP In which minority communities feel attacked and threatened.
“Once the bill is passed, there will be more harassment and more difficulties,” he told the Hindi service. BBC Peter Machado, Archbishop of Bangalore.
The bill is based on a law introduced last year during the BJP rule in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. There, The law against the so-called “love jihad”, Muslim men lure Hindu women and propose to convert them is a popular conspiracy of the Hindu right.
Since the enactment of the law in Uttar Pradesh, the state police has registered more than 100 cases of forced conversion, the news website Print reported in November.
The General Secretary of EFI, which runs 65,000 churches in India, Rev. Fr. Vijayesh Lal alleged that the situation in Karnataka was similar to what happened in Uttar Pradesh before the law was introduced.
“They put pressure on the community, make false accusations of proselytizing, and then introduce a law that is unconstitutional.“, He said.
Religious conversion is a controversial issue in India. Right-wing groups have long accused Christian missionaries of forcibly converting poor Hindus by offering them other support, such as money or bribes, which they deny.
But historically it is known Dalits (Formerly known as “untouchables”) They have converted to Christianity to escape the harsh Hindu caste hierarchy. Despite the laws that protect it, this community is often the victim not only of discrimination but also of violence.
Tensions often escalated into ground violence: In 1999, a series of attacks on Christian institutions continued in the eastern state of Orissa (also known as Odisha). An Australian missionary and his two young children were killed while they were sleeping in a jeep.
Christian pastors and priests in Karnataka say they are afraid of the future. Initially, the attacks were limited to a few centers in the state, but now 21 out of 31 districts have recorded at least one violent incident.
“I have been here for 40 years and now I do not know why these proselytizing allegations are happening. We have many friends here in the Hindu community,” said Reverend Thomas D, president of the Belgaum District Pastoral Association.
Thomas noted that in November the local police informally told the Christian community not to hold prayer meetings. Avoid attacks by right-wing groups.
Speaking anonymously, a police official told the BBC that although private police stations had advised priests to be vigilant, there was no “government policy” in the matter.
Father Francis D’Souza, a pastor of a local church in Belgaum, last week accused a man of trying to attack himself with a sword. The case is under investigation and senior police officials have assured that Father D’Souza will be given protection.
“But I still have fear,” said the cleric.
Representatives of the Christian community have questioned the need for anti-conversion legislation The Constitution of India gives everyone the right to “spread religion”.
There is no national law restricting religious conversion, and past attempts to introduce such bills in parliament have failed. But many states have enacted laws over the years to restrict religious conversion.
BJP legislator Arvind Bellad, who led the massive protest against Pastor Somu, asked: “Why are only Christians worried about the new bill?”.
“The interesting thing is that other minority communities, Muslims, Sikhs or Jains, are not worried about this new law,” he added.
Chief Minister Baswaraj has said that only those who try to lure people and convert to another religion should fear the law.
But Archbishop Machado promises that there will be attacks and talk surrounding the bill They are clearly targeting Christians.
“It simply came to our notice then.“, He said.
Retired Army veteran SG Wombatkere said people should not take justice into their own hands.
“If you have a complaint, you can not go and beat. “I have no right to attack you no matter what you do. But these days the unusual is becoming the norm”.
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