In Name of ‘Survey’, Karnataka Govt Uses Intelligence Wing to Surveil Churches
Representational Image. Image Courtesy: The New Indian Express
The Bharatiya Janata Party-led government in Karnataka has undertaken a controversial and large-scale exercise to gather intelligence on churches and Christian congregations ahead of tabling an ‘anti-conversion’ bill in the Karnataka Legislative Assembly.
Karnataka’s Intelligence Department had issued an order on October 16 to top police and intelligence officials to accumulate information on “authorised and unauthorised” churches in Karnataka, The Quint reported.
This exercise is contrary to what the State’s Minorities Welfare Department claims to be an innocuous “survey” of churches in the state. Even the so-called “survey” was called “dangerous” by Christian organisations who submitted a memorandum to the state government in this regard.
There is a brewing fear of persecution among the state’s minorities since Karnataka chief minister Basavaraj Bommai on September 29 said the state government was contemplating bringing a law in the assembly to prevent religious conversions. Reports and studies have linked increased persecution of minorities with the introduction of anti-conversion laws.
The state’s intelligence wing had swung into action right after the Legislative Committee on Welfare of Backward Classes announced that “district authorities” were to collect information on churches, The Quint reported. The Quint has a copy of the classified order issued by the Intelligence Department, which shows that it was not just district collectors but also police officers who were responsible for collecting information on the minority religious places and congregations.
According to the order, classified as ‘most confidential’, churches and prayer halls, including those built on church and government properties, as well as private property, and their religious heads, are under surveillance. For instance, in the case of churches built on church or government property, the details of the head of the church are to be collected, whereas in the case of private property, the details of the owner are to be collected. The order also directs the police to gather precise intelligence on whether a church is Protestant or Catholic, The Quint reported.
According to the order, the gathered intelligence of churches and church heads was to be relayed to the state’s intelligence wing by October 18, which has possibly been completed.
Christians constitute only 1.87% of Karnataka’s population. This “survey” or surveillance, coupled with the proposed anti-conversion law, could aggravate the continuing violence against minorities in the state. The Archbishop of Bangalore had said he feared that the law, if passed, would “give way for large-scale uncontrolled communal conflagrations.” His comments came amid increasing protests by Hindu right-wing organisations, such as the Vishva Hindu Parishad, holding protests in the state demanding the law. Notably, Article 25 of the Indian constitution guarantees the right to “propagate, practice and profess” one’s religion.
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