Bangalore Archbishop Reverend Peter Machado said he would meet Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai to reiterate the community’s concern over a proposed law to ban “forcible religious conversions” in the state.
“We will appeal once again to the Karnataka government and I don’t mind meeting CM Bommai again, along with other leaders,” he said in a press conference convened in Bengaluru Monday by the All Karnataka United Christians Forum for Human Rights (AKUCFHR).
Incidentally, a couple of weeks after a delegation of Catholic bishops from the state met Bommai last month to voice concern over the proposed anti-conversion law, the CM had stated that similar laws that are in force in other states will be studied and “a strong anti-conversion law will be brought into effect soon” in Karnataka.
Stressing that the Christian community will oppose the state government’s move to bring into effect an Anti-Conversion Bill (ACB), Machado said, “The government’s proposal for ACB is unnecessary as it would affect religious harmony. It is arbitrary as it tends to target only the Christian community.”
Machado, who is also the president of the Karnataka Region Catholic Bishops’ Council, added that enacting such a law would lead many to misuse its provisions, with smaller groups given more powers. “Groups would tend to read everything in a negative manner which would lead to the breach of peace and harmony in the state. Moreover, the anti-conversion bill would become a tool for the fringe elements to take law into their own hands and vitiate the atmosphere with communal unrest in the otherwise peaceful state,” he remarked.
To a query by The Indian Express, Machado said the community would decide on organising a silent protest if the demand to revoke plans to enact the law are not met. “If necessary, a silent morcha or a candlelight procession will be held to indicate that the concerns around the proposed ACB are affecting members of our community as well and not just the leaders,” he said. Further, Christians in the state would be urged to observe prayers and fasting on the second Friday of November.
Machado also called out the recent controversial statement made by Bommai on moral policing carried out by vigilante groups in the state noting that it “extolled and emboldened” fringe elements. “Since then, attacks and persecutions have increased in undesirable proportions on the religious minorities in the state… another tool of ‘anti-conversion’ law will only make all hell break loose,” he opined.
The Archbishop also recalled Bommai’s support towards the community when churches were vandalised in 2008. “Our present CM Bommai stood in our support as a Janata Dal leader then. We hope he looks into this issue,” Machado said.
At the same time, Machado said the Church would look into allegations that 36 instances of forced conversions have taken place in the state. “While most of these allegations are baseless, we will look into these matters to ascertain if there is any veracity in such reported incidents,” he said.
Meanwhile, senior Congress leader and former Union minister of state Margaret Alva sought to know what the “fear of the three per cent” (estimated population of Christians in India) was, citing allegations against the community on conversions made by ruling BJP leaders.
“If people were to be converted in large numbers, it should have happened over the last 200 years since the British were here. The Dutch, French and the so-called Christian invaders also came and left but the population of Christians in India have never gone beyond three per cent,” she explained.
Alva, who is also the former governor of Goa, Gujarat, Uttarakhand and Rajasthan, highlighted the missionary works carried out by the community saying, “Christians have always stood for justice, service and for the education of people.”
On allegations of forceful conversions by Christian missionaries, she demanded that such claims should ideally be backed with statistics. “Can you give us a percentage of such conversions happening in our schools or institutions? I still get hundreds of requests from across the country seeking my recommendation for admissions to schools run by Christian managements with none of them forced to convert at any point,” she said.
Intelligence order to gather info on churches illegal: Former Home Min
Meanwhile, Congress MLA and former home minister KJ George termed a recent internal order by the ADGP of the State Intelligence Department to gather information about “authorised and unauthorised” churches in the state as “illegal”. He noted that the department was in charge only to gather information and report to the CM on issues pertaining to “internal security, terrorism or anti-national concerns.”
George added that no police personnel can ideally summon and gather information from priests or religious leaders unless a bill is passed and a set process is in force. “Such actions can be taken only if it (ACB) is passed either through ordinance or by the legislature and if a complaint is filed. The police are not supposed to try generalising some claims to target one religion,” he said.
He added that he will take the matter up for discussion with the Congress Legislative Party to decide its course of action for the next legislature session.
Anglo-Indian MLA Vinisha Nero and former Mangalore South MLA John Richard Lobo also expressed displeasure over the BJP government’s move on the ACB and to survey Christian missionary works.