Karnataka, a state ruled by the BJP that has been witnessing stiff Hindu resistance in the face of evangelical efforts to convert the people to Christianity, is hotly debating the anti-conversion bill since its introduction in the cabinet in September. Some ruling BJP leaders have spoken to reporters about the bill and answered allegations of “rising attacks against Christians” made by certain media houses.
Despite objections to the anti-conversion bill raised by Christians for the obvious reason that the legislation threatens to check the growth of their religion that relies heavily on membership drives, the Karnataka government is pushing ahead with its plans, justifying it on grounds that illegal conversions are on the rise.
“Data is not necessary” and “all” conversions are illegal, BJP’s Vaman Acharya says.
“Data is not necessary because it’s evident. It is very evident from the increase of the Christian population from 0.5% to 3%. All conversions as far as BJP are concerned are illegal. All are illegal,” the BJP’s Vaman Acharya said.
But in October, the Karnataka government had instructed the Department of Minorities’ Affairs to collate data on people who had converted from one religion to another in the past 25 years. State government officials told Sirf News under the condition of anonymity that the bill is based on the information gathered by the department.
According to the 2011 census data, Karnataka’s Christian population was 1.87%, a drop compared to the 2001 census, where it was 1.91%.
Giridhar Upadhayay, the official spokesperson of the BJP in the state, said, “The government has ordered a survey on churches which are registered and unregistered, and illegal churches. Because many of the houses have been converted into prayer halls where the people are lured into, and fear is brought into their mind… and all such things are happening.”
The opposition says the heightened focus on illegal conversions is a political gimmick. “For the political gain, the government is bringing anti-conversion law. If the issue is serious, let them bring a law in the parliament. This is happening only in states, only to politicise the issue. Attacks on minority communities are increasing,” said Karnataka Congress chief DK Shivakumar.
Even as Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai has said the anti-conversion bill will be taken up for discussion in the winter session of the assembly, incidents of induced conversions and protests by Christians are simultaneously happening in Bengaluru. A day after a human chain protest against the bill, the people’s union for civil liberties on Tuesday released a report that documented nearly 39 incidents of hate crimes by Hindutva groups.
The leftist section of the media has reported seven attacks against Christians since September while the Hindu complaint of induced conversions have gone unreported. In November, the Akhila Bharatha Veerashaiva Mahasabha, the top decision-making body of the Veerashaiva-Lingayat community, planned to launch a ‘ghar wapsi’ drive.
Goolihatti Shekhar, Hosadurga MLA, raised the issue in the legislature committee recently and ensured a survey of unauthorised churches allegedly involved in these conversions.
“It may surprise some, but it is a fact that a section of the Veerashaiva-Lingayat community is becoming vulnerable to allurements of religious conversion,” said BS Sachidananada Murthy, vice-president of the Mahasabha. “Although the community is significant in terms of political influence and population, a large section is poverty-stricken. This is being exploited by those indulging in conversion,” he said.
Murthy claimed “reports” from the districts, including Davanagere, Dhrawad, Gadag, Chamarajnagar, Mysuru, Koppla and Raichur, show “about one lakh Lingayats have converted to Christianity”. He did not provide any evidence for the staggering figure or suggest over what period those conversions happened. He said the ‘ghar wapsi’ drive is aimed at bringing these people back into its fold.
The Mahasabha issued a circular last month to its district and taluk units across the state, instructing them to survey households to trace Lingayats who have converted to other faiths. It has also asked the local units to organise “reconversion” events with help from local mutts. The representatives of the Mahasabha said the issue will be discussed during its next meeting on 23 December.
“We will collect data from the districts and then decide on the modalities of the drive,” said Shamanur Shivashankarappa, the Mahasabha’s president.
Opposing the Karnataka government’s decision to table anti-conversion Bill in the upcoming winter session, the archbishop of Bengaluru, Peter Machado, wrote a letter to the Karnataka chief minister in November, urging him to not to promote “an undesirable and discriminatory bill” in the interest of the peace and harmony in the society. In the letter, he said that the entire Christian Community in Karnataka opposes the Anti-Conversion Bill.
ST Ramesh, former police chief of Karnataka, explained why the police were seen as little more than spectators to the attacks, he said that the cops in the state “were breaching the law of the land and the constitution”.
“The police always works at political dispensation which cannot be wished away. The wave of anti-Christian violence and vandalism witnessed in Karnataka recently seems it has the tacit support of the government. Normally, police would be expected to register suo moto cases and carry out investigations impartially. It is clear they have not been doing that owing to some pressure,” Ramesh said.
But in October, Jains organised a major rally in the Belagavi district of Karnataka to protest against illegitimate conversions. The rally was attended by officials and religious leaders of several organisations of the Jain community on 21 October. A large number of Jains participated in the rally that began from Rani Chennamma Circle and concluded at the deputy commissioner’s office.
In September, former Karnataka minister and current BJP MLA Gulihatti Shekhar had said that 40% of the churches operating in the state were not officially recognised. “Statistics are being gathered in this regard. The committee discussed unofficial missionaries operating in the state,” he said.
Shekhar had shared with the media the fact that a missionary had converted none other than his mother. “The extent of brainwashing by missionaries was such that his mother started to detest anything and everything Hindu. She had stopped applying kumkum and used to not even look at the idols of Hindu Gods and Goddesses at their house,” the MLA had said, OpIndia reported in September.