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New Report Documents Organised Violence Against Christian Prayer Meetings in Karnataka

The PUCL report alleged that in most cases, the police had failed to offer protection to the victims even in cases where intelligence reports had warned of possibilities of violence.
Advocate Manavi of ALF, YJ Rajendra of PUCL and Pastor Lucas present the report

Advocate Manavi of ALF, YJ Rajendra of PUCL and Pastor Lucas present the report.

At least 39 incidents of violence and harassment have been reported in 2021

A new report by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has documented as many as 39 acts of organised violence against Christians in 2021 in Karnataka. The attacks have allegedly been carried out by members of Hindu right-wing organisations. 

The report also alleged that in most cases, the police had failed to offer protection to the victims even in cases where intelligence reports had warned of possibilities of violence.  

Pastor Lucas, from Chikkaballapur district, himself a victim of similar violence in 2017, spoke about the issue. He said, “There was a Sunday prayer meeting on November 14, 2021 at Rajanukunte. The police had received an intelligence report on the 13th that violence would take place the next day. Several police officers including a sub-inspector were present at the spot. However, more than 40 goons had barged inside the prayer hall and vandalised the place in front of the police”.

Newsclick reached out to pastor John Shamine at Rajanukunte. However, he was reluctant to speak about the case since the legal proceedings were ongoing. He said, “They (goons) are creating an atmosphere of fear among people living peacefully in villages. Entering churches and manhandling people is a show of power. It is a violation of fundamental rights as people are losing their personal liberty.” He had mentioned that, in his case, the local police were helpful and had registered FIRs, however no arrests have been made yet.

The Role of Police

According to the PUCL report, non-cooperation from the police was rampant in most of these cases of violence. While no arrests have been made against the perpetrators, many cases were filed against the pastors and members of the prayer congregations. The common sections used were IPC 143 (unlawful assembly), 148 (rioting, armed with a deadly weapon), 324 (voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons), sec 427 (causing damage to the amount of fifty rupees), 295 (damaging or defiling any places of worship) and 295A (Deliberate acts intended to outrage religious feelings).

The irony here is that the Christians themselves were now made to face charges of defiling a place of worship. In most instances, the pastors have testified that the police extorted money from them on the pretext of helping them during case proceedings.

The modus operandi seems to be similar in most instances of violence. A prayer hall is targeted when a service is being conducted. The pastors and other members of the congregation are abused, assaulted and the prayer hall is vandalised. Videos are taken on cell phones and circulated to celebrate the win over Christian missionaries. The police then register cases against the mob and the pastors, but no arrests are made. The attacks are spread out and they cover almost all districts in the state.

In some cases, the Christians were deemed to be members of scheduled castes and tribes. Hence, they were subjected to casteist abuse and warned that their caste certificates and reservation would be taken away. This echoes the words of the ministers belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party who are drafting a bill against religious conversions. 

Anti-conversion Bill

Among the policies being discussed is the penalisation of forced religious conversions and taking away reservation benefits of those who convert from Hinduism. The Karnataka legislature is currently in session in Belagavi district and the bill is said to be introduced during the present session. If the law is passed, it is feared that the police would have another legislative weapon to harass Christians in the state. 

Presently, Dalits who convert to Christianity or Islam are not eligible to receive reservation benefits. Only Dalits belonging to Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism are eligible. A petition to make reservation religion-neutral is being heard in the Supreme Court of India (National Council of Dalit Christians vs. union of india).

Role of Local Media

The PUCL report offers a scathing critique of the role played by the local Kannada TV channels. It accuses the news channels of sensationalising the stories and presuming guilt in the context of forced conversions. An example provided in the report says, “A key figure in the media coverage was MLA Goolihatti Shekhar and his mother. Statements such as, ‘The death of Goolihatti Shekhar’s brother became a reason for converters! The mother drowned in sorrow, was introduced to Jesus and converted! Why did MLA Goolihatti Shekhar’s Mother convert, and how? were being aired by these channels. It reflects the media’s inherent patriarchal stance that they cannot fathom that women can choose their own religion and believe that somehow a son is more entitled to decide his mother’s religious belief systems.”

This example is of BJP MLA of Hosadurga constituency, Goolihatti Shekhar, who belongs to the Lambani community. He broke down in the September assembly session while speaking about forced religious conversions in the state. His mother had converted to Christianity a few years ago. After his speech in the assembly, his mother reconverted to Hinduism. 

Evicted from Rented Accommodations

Pastor Vinay, living in the temple town of Udupi, had testified that due to repeated visits of police personnel (investigating forced religious conversions), his landlord had asked him to vacate the house. After he found a new home, the police allegedly forced his new landlord to evict him from the premises for targeting Hindus for conversion. Due to this, he was compelled to find a new home almost 37 kms away from the Church.  

The report provides the full context of the anti-conversion bill that will be tabled by the BJP government in Karnataka. The bill is being seen as a part of concerted efforts to demonise the Christian community and paint religious leaders as malicious individuals preying on innocent Hindus for religious conversions. However, there has not been any convictions or evidence of forced religious conversions in the state.

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