Right-wing groups set on fire the religious books of Christians (Screengrab)
Anti-Christian activities and attacks seem to be at an all time high in Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) governed Karnataka. Just over this weekend, a group of right wing miscreants set Christian religious books ablaze in Kolar, while in Belagavi, a man entered a church armed with a machete!
On Sunday Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai reportedly hinted that the draft of the “anti-conversion bill” would be approved by the state cabinet and it may be introduced in the winter session of the assembly in Belagavi. The cabinet is expected to meet during the Belagavi assembly session, which begins from December 13. In September this year, the CM had met with Hindu religious leaders, and said that the state will soon have a law against religious conversions. The intention was opposed by the Opposition Congress and its state party chief D K Shivakumar alleged that the law is aimed at targeting Christians and that it would come in the way of attracting investment to the state.
Archbishop of Bengaluru, Peter Machado, had also written to Chief Minister Bommai and urged him not to promote this legislation saying, “The entire Christian Community in Karnataka opposes the proposal of Anti-Conversion Bill 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.” The Archbishop quoted Article 25 and 26 of the Constitution, and told the CM that an “Anti-Conversion Bill would become a tool for the fringe elements to take law into their own hands and vitiate the atmosphere with communal unrest in the otherwise peaceful state.” The Archbishop had also been vocal on the issue of “a survey” of Christian missionaries, institutions, establishments in the state.
Attacks on Christians on the rise, 2 major incidents reported this weekend
In Kolar, when a group of local Christians were going door-to-door as part of a preaching drive in Srinivasapura in Kolar district on Saturday, some members of right-wing groups set Christian religious books ablaze. The right-wing group was alleging conversions by the church, stated media reports. The Indian Express report stated that police confirmed members of right-wing groups attacked four people from the Christian community who had come to a rented accommodation in Srinivasapura to “hold discussions on a drive to distribute religious books.” They were however intercepted by members of right-wing groups who started questioning them, and snatched away their religious books and burned them. According to the police, no complaint has been filed in connection with the incident, and no arrest has been made.
According to NDTV, police said the Christian community was “warned” against distributing religious booklets. “We have warned the Christian community to not create any communal disharmony by going door-to-door and preaching. Both parties, the right wing and the Christian community members have settled the matter amicably,” an officer told NDTV on condition of anonymity. The report added that one of the right-wing group members told the media that while they burnt the books they “did not act violently” he said “We did not trouble them. They were distributing books in our neighbourhood and were propagating about Christianity,” he told reporters.
This attack is reportedly the “38th attack on religious minorities in Karnataka in the last 12 months” a wave of communal attacks is on the rise in the state since its BJP-led government has started making public its intentions to bring forth an ‘anti-conversion Bill’.
On Sunday, December 12, a man armed with a machete reportedly entered a Karnataka church, and chased the priest in Belagavi. All this was recorded in the CCTV footage of the church’s security cameras. It reportedly showed the man, with a machete in hand, following the church’s in-charge Father Francis D’souza. On spotting the armed man, the priest moved away but the intruder followed and later fled the area, according to NDTV he was also seen carrying a wire. After a complaint was filed about Sunday’s incident, security has been provided at the church and an investigation has begun. A Kanthraj, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Bangalore, told the media this latest incident was a “dangerous and disturbing development”.
Fact finding reports put on record the rising attacks
In the wake of the media reported attacks against Christians in North Karnataka, a fact-finding team from the Religious Liberty Commission (RLC) of Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI). They visited eight towns and cities, and met with 12 pastors and Christian leaders who have recently experienced opposition and harassment. According to the team, “It is clear and obvious that an atmosphere of fear and apprehension prevails in the Christian community and its grassroots religious clergy because of systematic targeting through a vicious and malicious hate campaign. It is equally obvious that those involved in carrying out this hate campaign and fear mongering enjoy protection and possibly support of elements in the political and law and order apparatus in the state.”
The EFI has now made its report public and called upon the State government to “act immediately before any major untoward incident takes place.” It will also send this report to the Governor of Karnataka, the Chief Minister, the National Commission for Minorities, to the Ministry of Home Affairs and to the office of the Prime Minister of India for their information.
According to the EFI team, “The constant talk at the highest levels of the government of Karnataka in recent weeks about the introduction of a so-called Freedom of Religion Bill” has in fact “empowered non-state actors to target Christians who are a miniscule minority in the state (1.87%), even less than the national average of 2.3 %.” The communal situation they added is not “getting out of hand” and so far there has been “no effective response from higher political and police authorities to stem the hate campaign and threats” against the Christian community in Karnataka. The EFI fears that the community “has a good reason to apprehend an outbreak of violence against them.”
The full report may be read here.