State authorities seal three churches, order 13 others to get ‘worship license.’
NEW DELHI, September 10 (Compass Direct News) – As tensions continued in the eastern state of Orissa, Hindu nationalist groups intensified attacks on churches and Christian institutions in the southern state of Karnataka.
Hindu extremists launched attacks on churches and leveled false charges of “forcible” conversions against Christian workers as the Karnataka government, ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), prepared to close down churches.
Sajan K. George of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) told Compass that a mob of more than 200 people attacked the Mission Action Prayer Fellowship church in Bada village of Davangere district on Sunday (September 7), accusing the Christians of “forcible” conversions.
The attack took place during the worship service. Besides assaulting believers and the pastor, the mob burned the Bibles, musical instruments and furniture in front of the church. They also vandalized the church building.
Media accompanied the mob, and local TV channels telecast the attack, George added.
The Hindu daily reported that the incident occurred despite a government ban on the gathering of four or more people within a 200-meter radius of three other prayer halls in K.T.J. Nagar police station limits in Davangere town, “which have been under attack since mid-August.”
The police arrested 10 people for instigating the attack.
The daily also reported that extremists of a Hindu nationalist group, the Hindu Jagarana Vedike, carried out a procession the following day (September 9) demanding the immediate release of those arrested. The newspaper quoted the extremists as rationalizing their attack on the pretense of the alleged forcible conversions.
“Had the authorities been alert and not given room for forcible conversions, such incidents would not have happened,” one Hindu nationalist told the newspaper.
The state convener of the Hindu group, Jagadish Karanth, complained that missionaries from seven countries, including the United States, France and Germany, had been funding churches and pastors in Davangere to motivate people of other faiths to join their fold. He said he had documents to prove that a pastor had written to a Christian missionary saying he had converted 6,000 Hindus into Christians within just two years.
Bogus Worship License Requirement
George of the GCIC said the commissioner of Davangere City had issued notices to demolish three churches – Eternal Life Church, Divine Healing Ministry church and Jesus Prayer Hall – in the city, claiming that their buildings were illegal. The three churches have been sealed.
The order was issued because these churches were facing allegations of fraudulent conversions by the Hindu extremist Hindu Jagarana Vedike, according to The Indian Express newspaper, adding that the Davangere deputy commissioner labeled the churches “unauthorized.”
A representative of the Christian Legal Association (CLA) told Compass that the Davangere deputy commissioner had also sent notices dated Aug. 30 to 13 other churches asking them to obtain a “license” for holding worship services.
“This is a violation of the religious freedom enshrined in the Indian Constitution,” said the CLA source. “There is neither any such requirement anywhere in the country, nor is there any provision for such license in any government authority.”
The CLA representative also said Hindu extremists were going from village to village in Davangere to identify Christian houses.
“The extremists demand that some identity cards be shown to prove their religious affiliation,” said the representative. “Such a data can be extremely dangerous. We fear the Hindu groups may be planning organized attacks.”
Besides the collection of data by extremist groups, district authorities are also surveying churches.
On Sept. 8, The Hindu quoted Deputy Commissioner K. Amar Narayan as saying that he had instructed the police to conduct an area-wide survey of churches and prayer halls to check how many of them were “authorized.”
Asked if the survey would also be conducted on places of worship of other religious faiths, Narayan said that it would be “exclusively” on churches because of the present controversy surrounding them. He said the survey would be completed in two or three days.
Bogus Conversion Charges
Christians have been at the receiving end of a spate of “communally tinged” incidents in recent weeks in Karnataka, mainly in Davangere district, The Indian Express newspaper said on Monday (September 8).
The newspaper quoted Davangere Superintendent of Police Sandeep Patil as saying that there had been allegations of forced conversions in the district for the last 12 months. Patil added that the police had identified 75 churches across villages in the district where security was enhanced.
Some police officers of the district told the newspaper that there was “nothing new” about allegations of “forced” conversions. “Maybe because the BJP is in power they are getting highlighted,” an assistant commissioner of police said.
The Indian Express also suggested that the recent spate of attacks was triggered by the state education ministry’s show-cause notices to over 2,000 Christian schools for staying shut on Aug. 29 to protest the violence against Christians in Orissa.
All Christian schools in the country remained closed on Aug. 29 to show solidarity with victims of anti-Christian violence in Orissa that started after a Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP) leader, Laxmanananda Saraswati, and four of his disciples were killed on August 23 in Kandhamal district. The VHP blamed local Christians for the assassination, though Maoists or extreme Marxists claimed responsibility for it. More than 56 people have been killed and hundreds of houses and churches burned in the violence.
The newspaper also pointed out that over the past two successive Sundays, police cases had been registered in Karnataka’s capital Bangalore against nearly 25 people, leading to the arrest of as many as 12, including a U.S. citizen, on charges of “promoting enmity between different religious groups” and “insulting religious feelings.”
Local police officers at Frazer Town and Ulsoor police stations, where cases had been registered, told the newspaper they had received complaints from members of Hindu groups alleging forcible conversions and use of inducements against the arrested persons.
Bogus ‘Communal Harmony’
The Hindu newspaper reported that Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, who completed 100 days in office yesterday (Sept. 9), said that “all efforts would be made to maintain communal harmony.”
What communal harmony is for the chief minister, however, was clear when he told The Hindu, “The rule of law will prevail. Nobody has the right to indulge in forcible conversions, and inducement to pave the way for conversions is banned. However, I will direct the district officials and district in-charge ministers to ensure that such activities are kept under check.”
Yeddyurappa also claimed that there has been no communal clash in the state “for long,” and “we will maintain this record.”
“I call upon the people to refrain from paying heed to rumors which are aimed at fomenting trouble and tarnishing the image of the government,” he added.
According to a 2001 Census, Christians form less than 2 percent of the total population of 52.8 million in Karnataka.
Report from Compass Direct News