10/26/2021 India (International Christian Concern) – Over 6,000 Christians in India’s Karnataka state participated in a peaceful rally on Monday, October 25, protesting a wave of persecution and the proposed enactment of a new anti-conversion law. The recent increase in attacks on Christians and their places of worship was triggered by the BJP-led government’s public support for enacting the new anti-conversion law.
The rally took place in Hublie town with 6,000 Christian walking three kilometers holding placards and shouting slogans in support of religious freedom in India. At the end of the rally, a memorandum to Karnataka’s Chief minister was submitted to local officials calling for the protection of churches and the release of Pastor Somu Alwadi, who is currently jailed on false forced conversion charges.
“There are two straightforward demands in the memorandum,” Pastor Som Shaker told International Christian Concern (ICC). “The government should ensure the safety of churches and Christians and that Pastor Somu Alwadi should be released.”
Local Christians report that radical Hindu nationalists attacked Pastor Alwadi’s Assemblies of God Church on October 17, disrupting the worship service and assaulting members of the congregation. When the police arrived on the scene, the radicals demanded the immediate arrest of Pastor Alwadi. Under pressure, police arrested Pastor Alwadi, falsely charging him with being involved in illegal conversion activities.
“Pastor Alwadi’s incident is one of several incidents that have taken place in Hublie district and across Karnataka,” a Christian leader who requested anonymity told ICC. “The state of attacks against Christians can be attributed to the BJP government’s decision to bring an anti-conversion law.”
Earlier this month, Chief Minister Bommai and other state leaders announced they were considering enacting an anti-conversion law in Karnataka. The announcement followed anti-Christian statements made by BJP MLA Goolihatti Shekar who claimed there are rampant illegal conversions to Christianity happening in Karnataka.
“If the bill is passed in the Assembly and translated into a law, we fear that it will give way for large-scale uncontrolled communal conflagrations,” the Karnataka Region Catholic Bishops Council said in a letter to the Chief Minister. “Fringe elements and communal forces will be let loose and take the law into their own hands.”
Across India, radical Hindu nationalists use the specter for mass conversions to Christianity and Islam to enact laws limiting the religious freedom of minorities. According to these nationalists, masses of low caste Hindus are converted to Christianity and Islam through illicit means and a law must be enacted to stop this from happening.
Article 25 of India’s constitution, however, protects the rights an individual to freely profess, practice, and propagate the religion of their choice. Anti-conversion laws limit this constitutional right by requiring individuals to have their conversions approved by the government. In addition to this, individuals from low caste backgrounds face the consequence of losing government benefits when converting from Hinduism to Christianity or Islam.
Radical Hindu nationalists also use anti-conversion laws as legal cover when persecuting Christians and closing churches. After assaulting a pastor or disrupting a church service, radicals falsely accused their victims of engaging in conversions to justify their criminal actions. As a result, police arrest the Christians and allow the radicals to go free.
For interviews, please contact Addison Parker: [email protected].