05/10/2022, 11.49
INDIA
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Karnataka, saffron flag and portrait of Hanuman in a Christian prayer hall

by Nirmala Carvalho

Hindu nationalists target a community in a village in Dakshina Kannada district. Meanwhile, Tamil Nadu's High Court will also discuss the issue of "forced conversions". Local Catholics protest: "Suicide of a young girl exploited for political ends." 

Mangalore (AsiaNews) - In the Indian state of Karnataka, new religious tensions are being fuelled by Hindu fundamentalists in the village of Renjilady in the district of Dakshina Kannada, targeting the evangelical community. Already in recent days  a cross on top of a prayer room was damaged and replaced with a saffron flag (the color of Hindu nationalists) in the village of Peradka. The building was broken into and a portrait of Hanuman, a Hindu deity, was left inside in an act of provocation.

Jose Verghese, local head of the Immanuel Assembly of God, also filed a police report for the theft of materials including the electricity meter, newly installed water pumps and new light bulbs. In response, activists from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal-two of the main entities in the Hindutva galaxy-have in turn filed a complaint demanding that the "illegal church structure" in Predaka be cleared.

They claim it is located on land belonging to a poor farmer named Shobharaj, which has been abandoned for eight years. "They belong to another faith, perform prayers and other activities to make that building a center for conversions," they write, claiming that there would also be another building under construction without the permission of the local government. "Shobharaj - they go so far as to declare - must be given protection because church leaders and other politicians have threatened him with death." Karnataka is one of the Indian states governed by the BJP, where in recent months the legislation against religious conversions, a measure flagged by Hindu nationalists, has been tightened.

Meanwhile, also in Tamil Nadu, the local High Court has accepted the request to discuss a petition on the issue of "forced conversions" in schools. The news has dismayed the local Catholic community, because the petition is exploiting the tragic death of a 17-year-old girl, a guest in a Catholic hostel, who took her own life a few weeks ago. The  incident led to the arrest of the Sister Sahaya Mary of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who was later released on bail.

Hindu nationalists used a video in which - years earlier - the girl spoke of alleged pressure for her conversion, while keeping silent about the existence of serious problems in her family that would be at the origin of her extreme gesture. Fr. Devasagayaraj M Zackarias, former secretary of the office for the protection of disadvantaged castes of the Indian Episcopal Conference, denounced to the Catholic website MattersIndia: "they are using the death of this girl to create unnecessary problems with the sole purpose of obtaining a political return".

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