New Delhi: International Christian Concern (ICC) learned that police officials in India’s Karnataka state banned a community of Christians from gathering for worship services indefinitely. The officials justified this unconstitutional action by claiming that none of the approximately 50 Christians were Christian by birth and must have been coercively or fraudulently converted to Christianity.
On January 4, 2021, 15 Christian families in Bannimardatti village, located in the Hassan District, were summoned to a meeting with the Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) along with other police officials. At the meeting, the DSP asked the Christians to show evidence that they were Christian and accused them of collecting government benefits as both Christians and Hindus.
The DSP then banned the Christians from gathering for worship in Bannimardatti village. The official justified this order by claiming none of the Christians in Bannimardatti village were Christian at birth and falsely claimed they were coercively or fraudulently converted to Christianity.
“This is the final attempt of Hindu radicals using the state police to clamp down on Christian activities,” a local Christian told ICC on the condition of anonymity. “They have tried everything including social boycotts and physical beatings. However, local Christians remained faithful in the midst of continued harassment.”
The DSP’s order is in direct conflict of the religious freedom rights held by India’s citizens under Article 25 of the constitution. According to Article 25, Indian citizens are given the freedom to profess, practice, and propagate the religion of their choice.
“There is no freedom whatsoever to gather for worship and practice the faith of our choice,” a local pastor told ICC. “The divide between communities is growing and the anti-conversion law that the state government of Karnataka is trying to enact will worsen the situation for religious minorities.”
Recently, Karnataka’s state government, led by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politicians, pledged to enact a law to regulate religious conversions and criminalize fraudulent religious conversions. Three other BJP-led states, including Madhya Pradesh, Assam, and Haryana, have made similar pledges after Uttar Pradesh, another BJP-led state, promulgated India’s newest anti-conversion law in November 2020.
Radical Hindu nationalists have used the specter of mass religious conversions to Christianity as justification to pass similar laws limiting religious freedom. According to these nationalists, Indian Christians are accused of converting poor Hindus to Christianity in mass by fraudulent means.
However, India’s own population data does not support this conspiracy. In 1951, the first census after independence, Christians made up 2.3% of India’s population. According to the 2011 census, the most recent census data available, Christians still make up 2.3% of the population.
In states where similar anti-conversion laws are currently enacted, including Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, Uttrakhand, and Uttar Pradesh, they are widely abused. Radical nationalists abuse these laws by falsely accusing Christians of forcefully converting individuals to Christianity to justify harassment and assault. Local police often overlook violence perpetrated against Christians due to the false accusation of forced conversions.
To date, no individual has been convicted of forced conversion in India. This is in spite of the fact that some of the anti-conversion laws have been on the books since 1967.
William Stark, ICC’s Regional Manager, said, “We here at International Christian Concern are deeply concerned by the actions taken by police in Karnataka. India’s police should be protecting the rights of the country’s citizens, not unilaterally stripping citizens of their rights due to their religious identity. Article 25 of India’s constitution is very clear. All Indians have the right to profess, practice, and propagate the religion of their choice. What the police in Karnataka have done to the Christians of Bannimardatti is simply wrong and unconstitutional.”persecution.org