Karnataka

Prayer groups in Belagavi anxious despite assurances by police officers

The police speak to members of Sri Ram Sena-Hindustan after an attck on a protestant congregation at Maratha Colony in Belagavi a few days ago.  

Christian prayer groups in Belagavi that used to hold prayer meetings on weekends have stopped conducting them in halls and open grounds following alleged threats by Hindutva outfits. A sense of insecurity continues among them with attacks on priests who were charged with engaging in “illegal conversions”.

Added to this is the advisory by some police officers asking a few Christian institutions not to hold public prayers to avoid confrontation with right-wing groups. This, the officers reasoned, was “in their own interest” and to ensure peace in the district.

 

Fear among minority groups continues even after K. Thiyagarajan, Police Commissioner, told a delegation of Christian leaders that no officer had issued any advisory or order, written or oral.

Those with churches

“The police have told prayer groups that only those denominations with churches will be allowed to pray. All others have stopped public prayers. Some are holding prayers in houses of believers. Some are doing it online,” said Nanda Kumar, district superintendent of the Belagavi Methodist Church.

However, Mr. Thiyagarajan told The Hindu on Sunday: “Anybody can practice any faith. There is no need for fear or panic. We only request all groups to follow COVID-19 protocol and other regulations.”

Despite such assurances, there is a sense of fear, say community leaders. “Priests from the community have faced at least 15 attacks from right-wing groups in the last one year. But the police have not helped us. Instead, they are asking us to stop conducting prayers,” said Sudhakar J.S., a pastor from Belagavi. He said that some police officers had told pastors that they had to avoid problems till the winter session of the State Legislature was over.

Cases against priests

“On most occasions, the police have refused to register a case against the attackers. On the contrary, they have filed cases against the priests in two cases. Only in one instance, a case has been registered against the attackers,” he said. The advisory by the police came in the backdrop of an attack by Sri Ram Sena- Hindustan (SRSH) members on a Protestant congregation at Maratha Colony in Belagavi a few days ago. SRSH members had allegedly locked up the prayer hall and abused the pastor. The city police had booked the pastor for holding a prayer meeting without due permission.

Protestant leader Immanuel Gaekwad of Belagavi Bible Church said the police had asked him to shut down a hall that he had rented out to hold prayers. He had been using the prayer hall for over three years. Pastor T. Thomas of Full Gospel said the police had told 25 prayer groups not to assemble in community halls or other private properties. “We told them that all our prayer groups were registered under Societies Act or Trust Act. But, they did not agree. This has hurt our feelings,” he said.

Fundamental right

Rev. Fr. Derek Fernandes, Bishop of Belagavi diocese, said the community was concerned about such developments. “Professing any faith and conducting prayers are the fundamental rights of any citizen of India. Ideally, the police should protect us and not ask us to refrain from public prayers,” he said. He thanked the commissioner for promising safety.


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Printable version | Jan 20, 2022 8:17:41 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/prayer-groups-in-belagavi-anxious-despite-assurances-by-police-officers/article37759722.ece

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