Christians in the Belagavi district of Karnataka have been issued a 'friendly warning' by police not to conduct prayer meetings until the conclusion of the Winter Session of the Karnataka assembly, which will be held in Belagavi in December and where a controversial 'anti-conversion bill' may be tabled, The News Minute has reported.
The Christian sects in the area fear attacks by the Sri Rama Sene and Bajrang Dal outfits, which have been "barging into churches", disrupting worship and destroying places of worship according to Pastor Benny Paul Saturi, who was part of the pastor group that was called to talks with the police.
"A few pastors were called and told to not conduct prayers saying right-wing groups may attack them and the police will not be able to give them protection," Pastor Thomas Johnson told The News Minute. "It is not banned because they have not given anything in writing, but they say it is to maintain communal harmony. In Camp and Tilakwadi police station jurisdictions, where Pastor Cherian was attacked, the police told the pastors that if you have your own church buildings, you can conduct prayer meetings but do not hold them in rented buildings or private houses," he added.
Interestingly, Christian groups have been told to avoid meetings until the end of the Winter Session of the Karnataka Assembly, scheduled to be held in Belagavi. This session, which will be held from December 13 to 24, is expected to feature the controversial anti-conversion bill. Further enquiries led TNM to the fact that more than 25 pastors in the district have been approached by the police and asked to avoid prayer meetings.
Over the last few months, several Hindutva groups including Sri Rama Sene and Bajrang Dal have been protesting against what they call 'forced conversion' by Christian pastors in several parts of the state.
The right-wing organizations had prepared a draft with what they believe a strong 'anti-conversion' bill should have, and submitted the same to the Karnataka CM Basavaraj Bommai. A delegation of Hindu seers, along with Sri Rama Sene's infamous president Pramod Muthalik, met the CM and reiterated the demand for a law at the earliest. But there is still apprehension on whether it will be tabled in the upcoming session of the Assembly. "Our leaders have gotten the CM's assurance. But we cannot just rely on that and wait endlessly," a Sri Rama Sene member told TNM. "We want to highlight the situation on the ground in Belagavi so we can exert pressure when the session is held here."
Tellingly on Monday, November 29, miscreants vandalized a church in Delhi's Dwarka area when the church was holding its Sunday prayer.
Congressional Briefing on persecution of Christians in India
Last July, in a Congressional Briefing cosponsored by a group of 17 human rights and interfaith organizations, including the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), Amnesty International and Hindus for Human Rights, a panel of eminent speakers raised awareness on the escalating persecution of Christians in India, and urged the US government to take definitive action in this regard, according to Two Circles Net.
The briefing was held as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited India. Advocacy organizations across the United States, including IAMC, have called on Blinken to raise the issue of religious persecution; they have also urged the US State Department to formally designate India as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC).
India is home to 30 million Christians, who have peacefully coexisted alongside other faith groups for centuries. With the rise of Hindu nationalism, however, attacks against Christians have increased at an alarming rate, taking the form of physical violence, disruptions of church services, restrictions on access to food and water, and false accusations of forced conversions. According to the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), the first half of 2021 saw 145 cases of violence against Christians nationwide. As EFI General Secretary Reverend Vijayesh Lal stated, "These incidents are all verified... this is only the tip of the iceberg."
Rev. Lal also highlighted the hypocritical nature of India's religious-freedom laws, which in practice are anti-conversion laws that are weaponized against minority groups. "Anti-conversion laws are being used against Christians in a major way in the eight states where they are enforced. All you need to do is put forth an allegation - [this person] tried to convert me, and they'll be grappling for the rest of their life, trying to prove themselves innocent in the process, and the process becomes punishment."
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