- Imran Qureshi
- BBC Hindi, Bangalore
One Sunday last October, Pastor Somu Avarathi was surprised when he entered his church in Hubli, Karnataka, in the southern Indian state of Karnataka.
“People were sitting inside singing Hindu songs and chanting slogans,” he told the 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 in which pastors were allegedly attacked by members of right-wing Hindu groups, and these groups allegedly physically prevented them from conducting religious services in their churches.
Christians a Minorities compared to the majority Hindus In India.
Christian delegates say the frequency of attacks has increased since October, when the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Karnataka and nationally announced that it was bringing in a “strong” law against religious conversion. Condition.
Critics have described the current draft of the bill as “tough”: that includes Imprisonment for up to 10 years “Forced,” criminals who converted others through fraudulent means or marriage. The denial of government benefits to those who convert from one religion to another is also considered.
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.
“If the bill is passed, there will be more harassment and more difficulties,” Bangalore Archbishop Peter Machado told the BBC Hindi Service.
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.
Rev Vijayesh Lal, general secretary of EFI, which runs 65,000 churches in India, said it was similar to what happened in Uttar Pradesh before the law was introduced in Karnataka.
“They put pressure on the community, make false accusations of proselytizing, and then introduce a law that is unconstitutional.“, He said.
Religious conversion in India is a controversial issue. Right-wing groups have long accused Christian missionaries of forcibly converting poor Hindus by giving them other support, such as money or bribes, which they deny.
But historically Dalits (formerly known as “untouchables”) have been known 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, there were a series of attacks on Christian institutions in the eastern state of Odisha (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 reported at least one violent incident.
Reverend Thomas D, president of the Belgaum District Pastoral Association, said, “I have been here for 40 years and now I do not know why these proselytizing allegations are happening. We have many friends in the Hindu community.”
Thomas noted that in November the local police informally told the Christian community not to hold prayer meetings. Avoid attacks by right-wing groups.
A police official, who did not want to be named, told the BBC that although private police stations advised priests to be careful, 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 priest.
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, questioned.Why only Christians care 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.
“The government is not doing us any good,” he said.
Retired Army veteran SG Wombatkere said people should not take justice into their own hands.
“If I have a complaint against you, I can not hit you,” he said. “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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