By Vatican News staff reporter
The head of the Catholic bishops of southern India’s Karnataka state has raised an alarm at the measures the state government is taking against the Christian community, under the pretext of combatting forced conversion, saying they infringe the rights of citizens and provoke communal unrest.
Anti-conversion bill and survey order
"The discussion and debate in the State on alleged ‘religious conversion' is warming up even as the government is considering promulgation of an Anti-Conversion Bill. The Backward Minority Welfare Department of Karnataka has also directed its Administration and Police Intelligence to conduct a survey of the religious personnel and places of worship, institutions and establishments only of the Christian Community,” Archbishop Peter Machado of Bangalore said in a press statement on Monday.
“The entire Christian Community in Karnataka opposes the proposal in one voice and questions the need for such an exercise when sufficient laws and court directives are in place to monitor any aberration of the existing laws,” he said in his statement released at a press conference in Bengaluru, formerly Bangalore.
Against constitutional freedoms
Archbishop Machado, who is president of the Karnataka Region Catholic Bishops' Council (KRCBC), as well as of the ecumenical All Karnataka United Christians Forum for Human Rights (AKUCFHR), argued that Article 25 of the Indian Constitution guarantees that “all persons are equal, entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion subject to public order, morality and health”. On the other hand, Article 26 ensures the rights of religious communities to manage their own affairs in matters of religion.
Why only Christians?
Archbishop Machado questioned the order of the Karnataka government’s Backward Classes and Minorities Welfare Department to conduct a survey of both official and non-official Christian missionaries and their institutions and establishments in the state, saying Christians “failed to understand the compelling need behind such a move”. “If the government so desires to have a survey let it do it,” he said, but questioned, “why only the Christian community is targeted and marked for this arbitrary, fallacious and illogical move”?
Why “another futile exercise”, when all relevant data in this regard is already available with the central and state governments, the archbishop noted. The government has the actual census figures of Christians in the country since independence. “If the allegations of rampant conversion across the State are true,” he asked, “why the number has not increased beyond 1.87% as per the last census figures?”
In his press release, the Karnataka bishops’ president underscored the educational service of the Christian community for hundreds of thousands of students in their schools and colleges. “Thousands of patients, irrespective of caste, creed, and colour, receive the best medical attention from our hospitals and care centers,” he said, asking the government to prove whether “even one of them has ever been influenced, compelled or coerced to change his or her religion”.
Fuelling communal unrest
Archbishop Machado said the introduction of such laws “would infringe the rights of the citizens, especially of the minority communities,” and “the anti-conversion bill would become a tool for fringe elements to take law into their own hands and vitiate the atmosphere with communal unrest in the otherwise peaceful State”. The 67-year-old archbishop pointed out that random and sporadic incidents should not put the entire Christian Community in bad light.
He said that in his response to the media, Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai validated and granted a tacit sanction to 'moral policing'. If the government is still bent on introducing the 'Anti-Conversion' Bill, Archbishop Machado lamented, “It is sure to vitiate and bring in communal conflagration and disturb the peace in society.”
The Catholic Church leader thus made a passionate appeal to Bommai to withdraw the orders issued by the Backward Class and Minority Welfare Department, and the proposal to introduce the 'Anti-Conversion' Bill, and thereby preserve and contribute to the communal peace, tranquility and brotherhood, which is the hallmark of any progressive State. (Source: Bangalore Archdiocese)