STATE OF PLAY | Karnataka | Comment

Proposing a law in bad faith

The All-Karnataka United Christian Forum for Human Rights organised a peace assembly in Bengaluru on December 4, 2021 to oppose the proposed Bill.   | Photo Credit: K. Murali Kumar

The BJP Government in Karnataka is keen to follow in the footsteps of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh by passing a law banning religious conversions through “force” or “allurement”. The demand for such a law is not new in Karnataka, but the pitch has steadily increased over the last few months. Interestingly, while the argument in support of the law in other BJP-ruled States was woven around the narrative of ‘love jihad’, in Karnataka it has been around conversions by Christians.

Also read | Christians oppose proposed anti-conversion Bill

The first indication of this came in July when the Directorate of Minorities Welfare instructed the deputy commissioners of all districts to conduct a survey of churches, purportedly for data collection purposes. It got louder after former Minister and BJP MLA Goolihatti Shekar sought action against missionaries in Hosadurga, his Assembly constituency, for carrying out “rampant religious conversions”. His mother, he said, was among the 15,000 to 20,000 people in his constituency who were “victims” of missionaries. The MLA since then has arranged for a ‘ghar wapsi’ of his mother and a few others. However, officials who carried out a survey in two villages in the MLA’s constituency found no cases of “forced” conversions.

Proposing a law in bad faith

The following month saw a House committee of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly on Backward Classes and Minorities meeting to decide on a survey to check “forced conversions”, chaired by Mr. Shekar himself. A day later, an internal order was issued by the ADGP, Intelligence, to all Deputy Superintendents of Police to collate information about “authorised and unauthorised” churches. In November and December, Karnataka has witnessed many attacks and threats against Christian prayer congregations, particularly in the border district of Belagavi. Several prayer groups that used to hold meetings in halls and open grounds have stopped doing so following alleged threats by Hindutva outfits. The police have “advised” them to discontinue their activity “to maintain peace.” In some instances, cases have been booked against those attacked. The last time Karnataka saw a spate of attacks on Christian institutions was in 2008 in Mangaluru and other coastal towns, when the BJP formed an independent government for the first time with B.S. Yediyurappa at its helm.

Since November, organisations such as the Shri Ram Sena, Hindu Janajagruti Samiti and a section of seers of various religious sects have kept up pressure on the Government to pass an anti-conversion law. On the other hand, Christian groups have petitioned the Government to underline the dangers of such a law. One petition pointed out that Christians account for only 1.8% of the State’s population and there has hardly been any increase, which flies in the face of claims of “rampant conversions.”

Archbishop of Bengaluru Peter Machado said recently that the law would become a tool for fringe groups to target Christians. He claimed that even in the absence of a law, since January, there have been 32 incidents of attacks on the community. He cited a fact-finding report by the United Christian Forum and others, based on calls received on the Forum’s helpline, to say that Karnataka ranks third after U.P. and Chhattisgarh in such attacks. The report notes a rise in attacks in October and November, as the discussion on anti-conversion law grew stronger.

Also read | ‘Affluent castes undergoing conversion is a matter of great concern’

Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, however, has continued to reiterate his government’s resolve to implement an anti-conversion law, after studying similar laws in other States. But it remains to be seen if he will push ahead with the bill in the upcoming session or defer it until the party’s strength in the Upper House, following the Legislative Council elections scheduled this Friday, gets consolidated enough to pass it without impediments.

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2022 10:40:56 PM |

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