Image: Bijay Kumar Minj/UCA News
The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) recently released a report titled “Criminalizing the Practice of Faith” on Hate Crimes against Christians in Karnataka by Hindutva groups. The report says that the myth of “conversion” is a bogey “used to target the constitutional right to practice, profess and propagate religion as recognized under Article 25,” and puts on record how, in Karnataka, it is being used to curtail Christians’ constitutional right to practice and profess their religion. The report comes at a time when the state government has openly stated an “Anti-conversion Law” may soon be passed in Karnataka.
The targeting of the Christian community is not a new phenomenon, says the report tracing the attacks to 2008 while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was in power. Then there “were attacks on several churches in different parts of Karnataka, such as Chikkamagaluru, Udupi, Mangalore, and Dakshina Kannada” and similar patterns can be observed under the rule of BJP in 2021finds the report which further says, “Even during 2008, the Hindutva mob had a similar narrative that Christians were purportedly engaged in converting Hindus” even though trends show a “continuous decline in the population of Christians in the last 5 decades.”
In 2021 too, targeted attacks are under the false garb of conversion
The PUCL report documents 39 incidents of hate crimes against Christian in Karnataka from January till November 2021, even as the community especially those in rural areas continue to face right-wing threats of violence and discrimination. The report specifically documents:
The attacks on Pastors, believers and Churches in Karnataka from January – November, 2021.
The modus operandi of the Hindutva groups behind these attacks.
The patterns that emerge from these attacks.
While the report documents 39 incidents in 2021, it does put on record that there “are several other cases that are neither reported in local media, nor could access resources or networks for legal and financial assistance.” It also states that if an anti-conversion law comes into effect it “likely to only make matters worse for the Christian community by giving Carte Blanche for excesses by vigilantes.” The report is structured to begin with elaborating on the patterns of hate crimes that have emerged in these attacks and is divided into chapters. For example the one titled: Patterns in Hate Crimes identifies six patterns viz- “assault on the right to freely practice religion, living under threat in a post pandemic Karnataka, Perpetrators of Hate Crimes, Casteist Slurs as an attack on Dignity, Attacking the vulnerable among a marginalised community and Police Complicity in Hate Crimes.”
Role of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Bajrang Dal, Hindu Jagrana Vedike
It explains how “in many cases of mob violence, the police arrested pastors and believers” and issued notices to churches to stop prayer meetings. The report identified perpetrators behind these communal hate crimes, namely “Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Bajrang Dal, Hindu Jagrana Vedike” and added that in cases of hate crimes in Karwar on October 4, and Mandya on January 25, “Bharatiya Janata Party MLA Sunil Hegde and 3-time BJP MLA Narayana Gowda (currently Minister of State for Youth Empowerment and Sports, Planning, Program monitoring and Statistics) were also named as people who supported the police in targeting Christians.” It added that in “almost in every instance of mob violence studied in this report, it can be observed in the chain of events that the police have colluded with Hindutva groups. With the overt guidance of the local leaders of BJP, RSS, Bajrang Dal, Hindu Jagrana Vedike and Banjara Nigama, the police actively work to criminalise the lives of Christians and stop them from organising prayer meetings. This complicit role of the police emboldens a culture of intolerance and bigotry.”
A chapter titled “The irony of Freedom of Religion Law”, highlights the shifts that the law has taken and its contribution to the criminalising the practise of faith as “Freedom of Religion Acts/Ordinances” that now exist in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.
It also put in the spotlight the role of the “media narratives on the myth of conversion,” and identifies “the contribution of the Kannada TV media imposing Hindutva views on conversion by exploiting the technique of investigative journalism and sensationalising the issue of conversion.”
Why is the State thinking of bringing an anti-conversion bill?
The PUCL report makes various recommendations which ask the state to “Implement the directions issued by the Supreme Court in Tahseen S Poonawalla v Union of India [AIR 2018 SC 3354] regarding cases of mob violence and lynching strictly. This includes among others, registration of an FIR without delay, preventing harassment of family members of victims, ensuring cases of mob violence are tried by Fast Track Courts on a day-to-day basis, and holding police officials who fail their duties in preventing the violence accountable.”
It questions why “is the State thinking of bringing an anti-conversion bill when the current Freedom of Religion Acts have very few people who are convicted under them?” The recommendations ask that the state “take immediate steps for the holistic implementation of Guidelines on Communal Harmony, 2008” and also set up “special helplines to deal with instances of mob violence.”
It calls on members of the legislature to, “Oppose the tabling of the draft Anti conversion Bill in Karnataka Legislative Assembly as well as the Karnataka Legislative Council,” and asks that civil society add their voice to that opposition and “extend its solidarities and equivocal support to the Christian community through legal assistance.”
The entire report may be read here.