Karnataka readies anti-conversion law, Christians demonstrate in front of cathedral
by Nirmala Carvalho

The local government: the measure will be debated in the Legislative Assembly next week. Bangalore Archbishop Machado: "Outrage against the Indian Constitution. Exaggerated numbers in nationalist speeches on conversions, Christians are decreasing in numbers rather than increasing. This is an incitement to sectarian violence". Attacks on churches have already increased in recent months.

Bangalore (AsiaNews) - The government of the Indian state of Karnataka has announced that the anti-conversion law is ready to be discussed by the next session of the Legislative Assembly, which will begin on December 13. The news has provoked a worried reaction from the local Christian communities who, on Saturday 4th December, on the initiative of the All Karnataka United Christian Forum for Human Rights, organised a silent protest in front of the Cathedral of St Francis Xavier.

The Archbishop of Bangalore, Mgr Peter Machado, who is also president of the Karnataka Episcopal Conference, describes the bill as "a shame on the secular principles promoted by the Indian Constitution". The Archbishop called on all components of civil society to raise their voices against this dangerous law.

"It is better to foresee communal violence before it really takes place," he added, urging the government not to introduce the bill. "The entire Christian community of Karnataka wonders what need there is for this measure when there are already laws and court directives in place to monitor any violation of existing norms".

Referring to statements by some MPs of the BJP, the Hindu nationalist party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, according to which in some districts of Karnataka there have been between 15,000 and 20,000 conversions, the archbishop spoke of exaggerated numbers.

"If things were like this," he said, "there would have been a growth in the number of Christians. The statistics give a clear picture that the Christian Population in the state of Karnataka, during the 2001 census amounted to 1.91 percent, while it significantly decreased to 1.87 percent in the year 2011.  Those who converted did so of their own free will, exercising a right guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. The anti-conversion laws are only a threat to minorities".

First approved in Orissa in 1967, the anti-conversion laws are now also in force in six other Indian states. Msgr Machado also questions the urgency that the local government of Karnataka wants to give to the discussion. "The text of the measure has yet to be deposited and the discussion is scheduled for the next parliamentary session. Where is the time and place for a public discussion?".

Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, adds: "Karnataka has seen a significant increase in attacks against Christians in recent months. The nationalist right feels strong and has even managed to have a pastor and faithful arrested. In 2008, too, the extremely serious persecution of Christians in the Kandhamal district of Orissa was followed by attacks on Churches in Karnataka. Religious freedom is a constitutionally guaranteed right in India that this law undermines at its very roots".