Proud To Be a Christian & Indian! Catholics Form Human Chain as PROTEST against Anti Conversion Bill by Government of Karnataka and also against attacks of Christians and demolition of religious places
Mangaluru: A couple of days before Christmas 2021, the Karnataka state assembly under the leadership of Basavaraj Bommai, the CM passed new anti-conversion legislation, called the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021. On 23 December 2021, a Hindu vigilante mob barged into a convent school in Karnataka’s Mandya district and disrupted a small Christmas celebration taking place. They shouted at the teachers and ordered them to stop the celebration, accusing them of “converting” Hindu children to Christianity. And on the same day (23 December) the state government passed the Anti Conversion Bill.
There is immense fear among the Christians to a spate of recent attacks against the community and their places of worship across Karnataka, a state governed by BJP under the BLESSINGS of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party. After all these attacks many Christians are feared what if a mob of saffron outfits suddenly walked in and started attacking everyone around. Karnataka will be the 10th state in India to enact the so-called “Freedom of Religion” law. The legislation bars religious conversions, except when a person “reconverts to his immediate previous religion” – a clause that critics say is aimed at enabling India’s many Hindu supremacist groups to convert Muslims and Christians into Hindus.
Moreover, marriages conducted with the intention of conversion can be cancelled and those found guilty can be jailed for up to 10 years, according to the bill. The ruling BJP claims the bill aims to stop “the illegal and large-scale conversion of Hindus to Christianity” – an allegation the party has yet to prove. Opposition parties and civil society groups have termed the proposed law “unconstitutional and undemocratic”.
A day after the state government introduced the anti-conversion bill (Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021) in the Legislative Assembly, a coalition of over 40 organizations of minorities, youth, Dalits, women and human rights organizations was organized. Peter Machado, Archbishop, Archdiocese of Bangalore, had said the community was saddened that the government did not heed their appeals and pushed the bill. “We request you not to humiliate the community with this Bill, which potentially criminalizes the practice of faith. We are glad that other sections of the society have also come out against it”.
Many fear that If the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill 2021 is passed, it may harm the fraternity and unity among different faiths leading to communal disharmony in the state. Most Christians say they fear the anti-conversion bill could be misused and the Christian community may have to face a lot of hardships as a result. Therefore standing united a large number of Christians/Catholics joined in to form a SILENT HUMAN CHAIN as a protest against the Anti-Conversion Bill urging the state government to drop the bill which is a clear violation of constitutional rights. Apart from this demand, the protesters were also against the attacks of Christians, the demolition of a prayer centre in Kuloor/Panjimogaru; and also the destruction of the statue of Jesus Christ in Kolar.
On a peaceful evening on Ash Wednesday, 2 March, Catholics joined by many priests, religious sisters and brothers, children and youths, in thousands all across the Dakshina Kannada district, including Mangaluru holding the placards with sayings, like- “Proud to a Christian & Indian”; “Equality with other citizens is our constitutional right”; “Don’t divide the country”; “Live and let live”; “India is a secular country respect it”; “We are one. do not divide us in the name of religion”; “Let’s uphold the constitution”; “We condemn the atrocities on peace-loving Christians”; “Religious freedom is our right”; “We have the right to worship the God we believe in”; among many more sayings.
It is estimated that more than 20 thousand Catholic faithful participated in this peaceful protest held in different places in the Mangalore Diocese, along roads and in public places for an hour from 6 pm till 7 pm, praying together and voicing their demand to protect secularism in the country as well as in the state, holding lighted candles and many with placards and a yellow and white papal flag. And following the Covid-19 protocol, the protesters maintained a distance and wore masks. It is learnt that in Moodbidri, Catholics from 14 parishes gathered at the district collector’s office from 10 to 11:30 am under the leadership of the Catholic Sabha and submitted a memorandum to the state’s chief minister. Sadly, Christians make up only 1.87 percent of Karnataka’s population of 68.4 million. Many, including social activists, say the anti-conversion bill makes faith a crime, and that Bill undermines the agency of individuals as to who their partners maybe?
Speaking to Team Mangalorean a renowned lawyer in his sixties, who wanted to remain anonymous, and who was holding a candle in his hand and a placard which read “Equality with other citizens is our constitutional right”, and standing near Forum Mall in Pandeshwar said, “The Anti-Conversion Bill, ironically called the ‘Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill’, is currently viewed as an issue that threatens the fundamental rights of the Christian community as a whole. But The bill undermines an individual’s agency to make intimate choices about who their partners may be and what religion they should follow. If the government sticks to the bill, it will start a state-wide protest like CAA, and that’s for sure. The law should be seen as part of a larger pattern. The Bill effectively legalizes vigilance and in return punishes the victims”.
Susan Pinto (name change) protesting near Bunts Hostel Road said, “The Bill is anti-women as it robs our agency. The law would be used to harass all those who go for inter-religious marriages and deny women the freedom to choose mates. Why should the government choose what we should eat, what we should wear, and who we marry?” The bill rejects the idea of plural India. It seems that the government has not learned a lesson from the victory of the people against NRC-CAA and agricultural laws. The Anti-Conversion Bill is just another distraction from the real issues facing the country. Let our government fix other important issues rather than implementing the controversial Bill”.
If you look at it, in Karnataka, the Christian community has faced increasing harassment for years, but recently saw a notable surge as at least 42 attacks on Christians and their religious places were documented. Three of those incidents – vandalizing a church in Chikkaballapur, disrupting a naming ceremony in Hubbali, and a mob forcibly entering a convent school in Mandya – were reported just hours before and after the passage of the anti-conversion bill. A few days ago we even saw a prayer hall being demolished, and a statue of Jesus Christ pulled down using a JCB. Rights activists fear the actual numbers could be more as some cases of atrocities against the community, which forms 1.87 percent of Karnataka’s 68.4 million population, go unreported.
An active community leader and activist said that the hate and violence against Christians were reminiscent of 2008 when at least 20 churches (including a chapel on Falnir Road, Mangaluru) were vandalized by Hindu groups in Karnataka. Just as it does now, Karnataka had a BJP government in the state in 2008 as well. But the activist said the number of hate crimes against Christians in the state saw a marked rise in 2021 and could rise more in 2022 if Christians don’t unite and fight for justice and freedom.
A PUCL activist said, “The main allegation of Hindutva vigilante group is conversion (either by force or allurement) of Hindus to Christianity. Their modus operandi is always the same. The attackers enter the places of worship and verbally abuse the pastors. During these attacks, the Hindutva (Hindu supremacist) groups beat up people and hurl casteist slurs. They don’t even spare women and children. The attackers also sexually abuse women. And in such attacks, carried out on the pretext of stopping the “illegal conversion” of Hindus into Christianity, after every attack, the police take the pastor and members of the minority group to the local police station and file cases against them. Several videos of such anti-Christian attacks are available on social media. “The videos are circulated both as a ‘victory against the Christian forces’ and as a tool to instil fear in all those who dare to practice their religion, which is a fundamental right”.
It is also learnt that the repeated assaults on Christians have also resulted in them facing social boycotts and threats to their livelihood. The fear is so strong that some victims do not even want to speak to the media. Many of those who speak to the media, including Team Mangalorean preferred to remain anonymous. “Nobody wants to be seen close to the victims because the attackers have the blessings of politicians in power,” said yet another protester who agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity. “Christians have been facing a social boycott and continuous threats from schools, local businesses, panchayat (village council) members, landowners and employers. Their dignity is stripped bare for practicing their fundamental right to a religion of their choice,” he added.
In yet another incident that happened on 10 September 2021, a right-wing Hindu mob attacked while the pastor was conducting a prayer meeting in the district’s Nitte village. The mob beat up and injured several devotees. Instead, in an FIR filed by the police after the incident, the pastor was accused of deliberately outraging the religious feelings of Hindus. He has since been evicted from two rental properties by landowners and forced to rent a house, far from Nitte.
The plans of the BJP government in trying to implement the Anti Conversion Bill in the name of conversions is purely BOGUS. The BJP’s allegation of “illegal and large-scale conversion of Hindus into Christianity” is not supported by statistics. As per the census of India data, between 1971-2021, the population of Christians decreased in Karnataka as well as in India. In 1971, the Christian population in Karnataka was 2.09 percent and 2.60 percent in India. In 2011, the community was reduced to 1.87 percent in Karnataka and 2.3 percent in India. If large-scale conversion was taking place as alleged by the BJP, then the population would have increased. In reality, the numbers are decreasing.
The whole forced conversion theory is a bogey. The government has come up with a bill to further marginalize the minorities. Seems like a common argument offered by BJP leaders and their supporters is that “if Christians are not converting Hindus, then they should not fear the bill”. Quoting chief minister Bommai, who had said that the legislation is supposed to protect “vulnerable sections like scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, other backward castes and poor” who he alleged “have been exploited through allurement” by Christian groups and institutions. We want to stop that,” Bommai said.
“Sorry, CM, your words such as “allurement” and “inducement” were vague. Do you think the poor, women and Dalits (formerly known as “untouchables” in India’s caste system) have no agency over their lives? Do we not all have the right to choose our religion, food habits and partners? India is a democracy”. And for the kind information of these legislators, there is NO FORCIBLE ACT OF RELIGIOUS CONVERSION, if CM and his netas think so. Finally, my sincere thanks to all the participants who joined in the HUMAN CHAIN, with an intention for JUSTICE and FREEDOM! WE ARE ALL PROUD TO BE CHRISTIANS AND INDIANS!