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Christians barred from holding religious services in southern India

Christian families in Karnataka accused of fraudulent conversion to take advantage of state benefits

Christians barred from holding religious services in southern India

Christians demonstrate in New Delhi asserting their constitutional right to freedom of religion on May 13, 2016. (Photo: UCA News/IANS)

Police in the southern Indian state of Karnataka have banned a Christian community from gathering for worship services.

The 15 Christian families from Bannimardatti village in Hassan district were accused by authorities of fraudulent conversion to Christianity to take advantage of government schemes.

“The case is under investigation by the authorities, so it is inappropriate to comment on the issue at present, but it is true that Christian families were barred from conducting any prayer services or gatherings by the police,” parish priest father Garvasis Mattam of St. Mary's Church in Hassan told UCA News.

“The Christian families belong to the Pentecostal Church. But it is not the only case in the state — there are several small sects in the state who sometimes cause inconvenience to people of other faiths while conducting prayer services and many times they are subject to complaint.

“As far as the allegations about conversion are concerned, there is no concrete proof that they fraudulently converted to Christianity to enjoy government schemes. We are awaiting the outcome of the investigations.

“Christians are already under the radar of fanatic groups in the state, which is run by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, so we have to very careful about our ministries. We should respect other faiths.”

Meanwhile, according to International Christian Concern (ICC), a persecution watchdog, the deputy superintendent of police of Hassan on Jan. 4 summoned the Christian families, accusing them of availing themselves of state benefits as both Christians and Hindus.

Police also asked them to show proof that they are Christian by birth and barred them from conducting prayer services until further notice. A police official said that since they don’t have proof that they were born Christians, they probably were converted by fraud.

The Christians see this as an effort to suppress their freedom to exercise religion. 

"Radical groups are using the police to clamp down on Christian activities and they use several ways to attack us, even including social boycotts and physical assaults, but our faith is intact,” a local Christian who asked to remain anonymous told ICC.

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The state recently pledged to enact a law to regulate religious conversions and criminalize fraudulent religious conversions. State Minority Welfare Minister Shrimant Balasaheb Patil on Jan. 6 announced that the government will soon enact a “Love Jihad Act” to prevent forcible conversions.

The BJP-led northern state of Uttar Pradesh enacted a similar anti-conversion law in November 2020 and since then other BJP-led states like Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Haryana and Karnataka have declared their intention to enact similar laws.

Hindu nationalists often accuse Christians of using force and surreptitious tactics in pursuing conversions, often storming into villages and leading reconversion ceremonies in which Christians are compelled to perform Hindu rituals.

Religious conversion laws require a person officiating an act of conversion to inform state officials a month ahead of the ceremony. It also criminalizes an act of conversion using fraud, force or allurement with jail terms and fines.

Hardcore nationalists seeking to turn India into a Hindu-only nation have accused Christian missionaries of using educational and health services as a facade to convert poor people to Christianity.

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