Announcement of Anti-Conversion Law Initiates Wave of Persecution in Southern India
By ICC’s India Correspondent
04/14/2021 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – On January 6, the Minority Welfare Minister of India’s Karnataka state announced that the state would enact an anti-conversion law to counter the supposed threat of ‘Love Jihad.’ Since this announcement, attacks on Christians and other religious minorities in the state have dramatically increased in both number and severity.
Karnataka is the fourth state in India, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), to announce its intention to enact an anti-conversion law in recent months. Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Haryana preceded Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh both passed anti-conversion laws in November 2020 and January 2021, respectively.
In both Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, the enactment of the new anti-conversion laws initiated a wave of anti-Christian violence. In both states, Christians and their places of worship came under increasing attack by radical Hindu nationalists using the new anti-conversion laws as legal cover to justify their violence.
In Karnataka, the mere announcement of the government’s intent to enact an anti-conversion law has had a similar effect.
“The level of intolerance has reached new heights here,” Pastor Samuel, who leads a Methodist Church in Karnataka, told International Christian Concern (ICC). “We used to hear about isolated incidents here and there. But now, the attacks on Christians are deliberate, well-planned, and violent. There is no exception for any denomination or congregation.”
On February 27, a mob of 15 Bajrang Dal activists stormed a Methodist Church in Ituga where 25 Christians had gathered for Lent prayers. The mob accused the Christians of causing a public disturbance by gathering for worship and demanded the church be shut down permanently.
When members of the congregation attempted to engage with the mob, the Bajrang Dal activists attacked with blades and other weapons, as a result, several Christians, including women and children, were injured.
“I was so frightened when they attack me with the blades,” Nirmala, a 20-year-old survivor, told ICC. “They did not listen to us at all. They wanted to end the service and lock the church doors.”
In another incident, a 76-year-old pastor was harassed and publicly ridiculed by radical Hindu nationalists as he attempted to lead Sunday worship in K.R. Peta Town, located in the Mandya District. Pastor Peter, who travels nearly 80 miles to lead worship at New India Church of God, told ICC he was attacked by a group of 10 radicals who forced their way into the church on March 21.
“Because of my age, I was already feeling frightened,” Pastor Peter told ICC. “They claimed that I received $800 for every person in the congregation. The mob shouted at me and demanded to know why I converted Hindus to the Christian faith.”
“The also abused the congregation,” Pastor Peter continued. “They threatened to take away their ration cards and government benefits meant for the economically poor. The mob also abused the women with foul language.”
In front of his congregation, the mob forced Pastor Peter to put on a saffron scarf, a symbol of Hindu nationalism, and chant ‘Jai Sri Ram,’ a Hindu nationalist slogan. The mob then took Pastor Peter outside of the church and questioned members of the congregation.
“People in the congregation told the mob that they attend the prayers voluntarily,” Pastor Peter explained. “They told the mob that no one forced or allured them to become Christians.”
The mob told Pastor Peter they would hand him over to the police, which worried Pastor Peter. However, someone Pastor Peter has been unable to identify helped move him from the crowd and dropped him off at a bus station from where he could leave K.R. Peta Town.
“There is so much of fear among the Christians in our state,” a Christian leader, who requested anonymity, told ICC. “We hear about Christians being attacked and ridiculed for their faith on an almost daily basis. We fear this trend is increasing day by day, and we have nowhere to go as authorities often support the activities of the radicals.”
While Karnataka has still not enacted the promised anti-conversion law, many radical Hindu nationalists on the ground are acting as if the law already exists. The increase in attacks across Karnataka has many Christians concerned about what will happen if the anti-conversion law is enacted. Will it cause an increase in persecution? Based on what has happened in other states, the answer to that question seems, unfortunately, obvious.
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