India: report highlights escalating anti-Christian attacks in Karnataka
By Lisa Zengarini
Christians in Karnataka have launched an awareness campaign and demonstrations against a new anti-conversion law due to be discussed this week, which they say targets religious minorities in the Indian state.
New Anti-conversion Law
Chief Minister of Karnataka, Basavaraj Bommai, a member of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), announced that the State Parliament will discuss the controversial bill during its session from 14 to 23 December. Christians, who represent less than 2 percent of the local population of 68.4 million, argue there is no need for the new provision, given that there are already enough laws and regulations to prevent any abuse.
Christians accused of proselytism
According to the proponent Goolihatti Shekhar, a member of the BJP, however, religious conversions "by force or through allurement are rampant" throughout the state. He said that over 15,000 Hindus have allegedly converted to Christianity in his constituency.
Christians strongly refute the allegations of proselytism, which are not supported by official data, and are in turn accusing the BJP government of fomenting violence against them. Indeed, according to a fact-finding report by a Protestant group in India, since the new anti-conversion law was presented in October there has been a rise in violent attacks against Christians.
Risk of more sectarian violence
The report, published on December 13 by the Religious Liberty Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) claims that constant talk about enacting an anti-religious conversion law at the highest levels in the State government has encouraged non-state actors to target Christians. “It is clear and obvious that an atmosphere of fear and apprehension prevails in the Christian community and its grassroots religious clergy because of a systematic targeting through a vicious and malicious hate campaign,” says Reverend Vijayesh Lal, EFI general secretary cited by Ucanews.
He further added that it was “equally obvious that those involved in carrying out this hate campaign and fear-mongering enjoy the protection and possibly support of elements within the political and law and order apparatus in the state.” Archbishop Peter Machado of Bangalore confirmed these concerns to Fides saying that that the new Anti-Conversion Law could trigger more sectarian violence.
39 attacks since January
The EFI report, copies of which have been sent to the Office of the Prime Minister of India, the Federal Home Minister, the National Commission for Minorities, the Governor and the Chief Minister of Karnataka , documented 39 violent attacks on Christians in the state since January. The latest incidents involved a Catholic priest attacked with a machete in Belagavi district on December 11 and three Pentecostal preachers who had their religious books seized and burnt in Kolar, on December 12. Another attack was reported on December 9, when some Hindu activists attacked four Christians and set their religious books on fire.
Other anti-Christian incidents reported took place recently in Madhya Pradesh. In the state’s Barwani district police arrested a couple on charges of “luring” tribal women with the aim of converting them to Christianity.