‘Govt’s Proposed Law on ‘Forcible Religious Conversions’ Arbitrary’ terms Archbishop Peter Machado

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The Archbishop also recalled Bommai’s support towards the community when churches were vandalised in 2008. “Our present CM Bommai stood in our support as a Janata Dal leader then. We hope he looks into this issue,” said Archbishop Peter Machado

Mangaluru: Addressing a press conference convened in Bengaluru on Monday, 25 October by the All Karnataka United Christians Forum for Human Rights (AKUCFHR), Bengaluru Archbishop Peter Machado said that he was ready to meet Chief Minister Bommai again on anti-conversion law. Rev Peter Machado termed the government’s proposed law on ‘forcible religious conversions’ arbitrary and said it would become a tool for fringe elements to take the law into their own hands

He further said, “My planned meeting with the CM is to reiterate the community’s concern over a proposed law to ban “forcible religious conversions” in the state. We will appeal once again to the Karnataka government and I don’t mind meeting CM Bommai again, along with other leaders,”. Stressing that the Christian community will oppose the state government’s move to bring into effect an Anti-Conversion Bill (ACB), Archbishop Machado said, “The government’s proposal for ACB is unnecessary as it would affect religious harmony. It is arbitrary as it tends to target only the Christian community.”

Incidentally, a couple of weeks after a delegation of Catholic bishops from the state met Bommai last month to voice concern over the proposed anti-conversion law, the CM had stated that similar laws that are in force in other states will be studied and “a strong anti-conversion law will be brought into effect soon” in Karnataka. Archbishop Machado, who is also the president of the Karnataka Region Catholic Bishops’ Council, added that enacting such a law would lead many to misuse its provisions, with smaller groups given more powers. “Groups would tend to read everything in a negative manner which would lead to the breach of peace and harmony in the state. Moreover, the 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,” he remarked.

The Archbishop also said the community would decide on organising a silent protest if the demand to revoke plans to enact the law are not met. “If necessary, a silent morcha or a candlelight procession will be held to indicate that the concerns around the proposed ACB are affecting members of our community as well and not just the leaders,” he said. Further, Christians in the state would be urged to observe prayers and fasting on the second Friday of November. He has also called out the recent controversial statement made by Bommai on moral policing carried out by vigilante groups in the state noting that it “extolled and emboldened” fringe elements. “Since then, attacks and persecutions have increased in undesirable proportions on the religious minorities in the state… another tool of ‘anti-conversion law will only make all hell break loose,” he opined.

The Archbishop also recalled Bommai’s support towards the community when churches were vandalised in 2008. “Our present CM Bommai stood in our support as a Janata Dal leader then. We hope he looks into this issue,” Archbishop said. At the same time, the Archbishop said the Church would look into allegations that 36 instances of forced conversions have taken place in the state. “While most of these allegations are baseless, we will look into these matters to ascertain if there is any veracity in such reported incidents,” he said.

Meanwhile, senior Congress leader and former Union minister of state Margaret Alva sought to know what the “fear of the three per cent” (estimated population of Christians in India) was, citing allegations against the community on conversions made by ruling BJP leaders. “If people were to be converted in large numbers, it should have happened over the last 200 years since the British were here. The Dutch, French and the so-called Christian invaders also came and left but the population of Christians in India has never gone beyond three per cent,” she explained. Alva, who is also the former governor of Goa, Gujarat, Uttarakhand and Rajasthan, highlighted the missionary works carried out by the community saying, “Christians have always stood for justice, service and for the education of people.”

On allegations of forceful conversions by Christian missionaries, she demanded that such claims should ideally be backed with statistics. “Can you give us a percentage of such conversions happening in our schools or institutions? I still get hundreds of requests from across the country seeking my recommendation for admissions to schools run by Christian managements with none of them forced to convert at any point,” Mrs Alva said.

Meanwhile, Congress MLA and former home minister KJ George termed a recent internal order by the ADGP of the State Intelligence Department to gather information about “authorised and unauthorised” churches in the state as “illegal”. He noted that the department was in charge only to gather information and report to the CM on issues pertaining to “internal security, terrorism or anti-national concerns.”. George added that no police personnel can ideally summon and gather information from priests or religious leaders unless a bill is passed and a set process is in force. “Such actions can be taken only if it (ACB) is passed either through ordinance or by the legislature and if a complaint is filed. The police are not supposed to try generalising some claims to target one religion,” he said. He added that he will take the matter up for discussion with the Congress Legislative Party to decide its course of action for the next legislature session.

Former Mangaluru MLA J R Lobo was also present in today’s meeting. Few days ago in a press release given to the media, Archbishop Machado had said that the Backward & Minority Welfare Department of Karnataka wishes to make a survey of the Christian missionaries and their places of worship. “We consider this exercise as futile and unnecessary. There is no good that will come out of it, In fact, in the background of the conversion bogeyman and anti-religious feelings that are being whipped up, it is dangerous to make such surveys. With this our community places of worship as also pastors and sisters will be identified and may be unfairly targeted”.

“We are already hearing of such sporadic incidents in the north and in Karnataka already. Why is the government interested in making surveys of the religious personnel and places of worship only of the Christian Community? We are sad that the Hon’ble Chief Minister, Shri Basavaraj Bommai, whom we regard highly as a broad-minded and enlightened person succumbs to the pressures from fundamentalist groups, who wish to indulge in disturbing the peace, harmony and peaceful co-existence in the society”.

“Let the government take the count of the educational institutions and health centres run by the Christian missionaries. That will give a fair idea of the service that is rendered by the Christian Community to nation building. How many people are converted in these places and institutions? If as alleged by some, Christians are converting indiscriminately why is the percentage of Christian population is reducing regularly when compared to the others? We are always against forceful, fraudulent and incentivised conversions and we repeat that we are lawfully abiding by the prescriptions of the Constitution of India, which for us is supreme and sacred”.

“Does not the Constitution in Article 25 (also 26, 29 & 30) ensure the freedom of every citizen to profess, practice and propagate his/her religion without fear or force? Why do we need any anti-conversion laws when there are enough safeguards enshrined in the Constitution and the legal system of the country to punish the guilty? Further laws will only be tools in the hands of a few hounds and persecute the innocent. Just a few days back the Madras Court declared that merely going to church and displaying Christian symbols does not mean that a person has converted”.

The Christian Community is patriotic, law abiding and would like to be foremost in the service of the poor and downtrodden in the country. We need support and encouragement from the government.

Inputs from I E-Bengaluru

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    • Choosing a government based on money/liquor they provide or based on fear of the choice (you will go to hell) or based on wrong/hateful/out-of-context-allegations information (sullu in the name of Satya Darshini! no less!) provided by the opposing candidates is illegal and immoral and needs to be curbed at all costs. So it is all the more important when choosing the form to worship as almighty,

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