Christians in India’s Karnataka State Endure Spike in Persecution
By ICC’s India Correspondent
04/04/2020 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Since the beginning of 2020, there has been a dramatic escalation in Christian persecution in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. Reports of violent attacks on the state’s Christians, often justified by false accusations of forced religious conversions, have become a regular part of the news.
Many Christians in Karnataka are worried that their state will become another Uttar Pradesh or Jharkhand, where Christian persecution feels like a state policy. With a state government being led primarily by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), some Christians are concerned this wave of persecution may be followed by the enactment of an anti-conversion law.
“There are four legal cases filed against my congregation and me,” Pastor Raja Bhovi, a church leader in Karnataka, told International Christian Concern (ICC). “None of the accusations from those cases are true. The radicals first threatened us to deny Jesus and our Christian faith. When we refused to recant, they beat us badly and started filing false cases against us.”
On January 12, a mob of 100 radical Hindu nationalists, led by a man named Raghu, attacked several Christian homes in Banni Mardatti village. The radicals, using wooden clubs and sharp stones, ransacked the houses and beat the Christian residents.
According to local Christians, four Christian women had to be rushed to the hospital and were admitted for a week. Following the attack, many of Banni Mardatti’s Christian families fled.
“The attackers think they are immune to any law,” Pastor Bhovi explained. “They proudly say that both in the state and at the center our party is ruling.”
“The corona lockdown has brought some relief to me,” Pastor Manju Keralli, another church leader from Karnataka, told ICC. “Because of the lockdown, the police are not searching to arrest me.”
On March 1, Pastor Keralli was brutally attacked by a mob of 150 Bajrang Dal activists while leading Sunday worship. He was dragged out of his house church, tied to a tree, and beaten with sticks for hours. Following the attack, Pastor Keralli was falsely accused of blasphemy by the radicals, an accusation the local police have unfortunately accepted.
“The attacks on Christians have increased since the BJP has come to power in Karnataka’s state government,” Pastor Keralli told ICC. “In Gadag district alone, five attacks have taken place. Pastors are very worried about the rising level of hate towards the Christians community.”
“In most cases, the police join the attackers to harass Christians,” Pastor Keralli continued. “They register false cases against the pastors and the evangelists.”
The rising number of attacks on Christians, often reported with false accusations of forced religious conversions, has many Christian leaders concerned that the BJP-led state government will push for the enactment of an anti-conversion law. In states where similar laws are currently enacted, including Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Uttrakhand, they are widely abused.
Radicals falsely accused Christian leaders and evangelists of forcefully converting individuals to Christianity to justify harassment and assault. Local police often overlook this harassment due to the false accusation of forced conversion.
In August 2017, shortly after the BJP gained control of the state government, an anti-conversion law was enacted in Jharkhand following a similar spike in persecution. While there was no scientific evidence to support the enactment of the law, the BJP-led government justified its adoption based on the reports of radicals falsely accusing Christians of forcible religious conversions.
In the year that followed the enactment of the anti-conversion law, ICC documented at least 64 Christians arrested on forced conversion charges. To date, however, there have been zero convictions under this law in Jharkhand.
For many Christians in Karnataka, the events leading up to the enactment of the anti-conversion law are eerily similar. Many are concerned that the enactment of an anti-conversion law in their state will only further increase the levels of intolerance and persecution their community already faces.