05/18/2022, 11.54
INDIA
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Karnataka: Christians' appeal ignored, anti-conversion law goes into effect

by Nirmala Carvalho

Just hours after promising Archbishop Machado to look into the matter closely, the governor signed the ordinance as demanded by the BJP Hindu nationalists. It is now the tenth Indian territory to criminalise conversion to another religion.

Bangalore (AsiaNews) - The governor of the Indian state of Karnataka Thaawar Chand Gehlot has signed the ordinance by which the anti-conversion law takes immediate effect, despite the fact that its parliamentary process has not yet been completed.

The request of the local government led by the Hindu nationalists of the BJP-the party of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi-to adopt the emergency procedure without waiting for a vote in the second branch of parliament, the upper house, where numbers are less "secure" than in the Legislative Assembly, which had already approved the measure last December, was thus granted. Karnataka thus becomes the tenth Indian territory where the flagship rule of Hindu nationalists, which under the pretext of fighting "forced conversions" actually targets social and educational activities promoted by Christian communities, is currently in force.

Making the coup that took place in Karnataka all the more bitter is the fact that on May 16-a few hours before signing the ordinance-Governor Thaawar Chand Gehlot had received a Catholic delegation led by the Archbishop of Bangalore, Msgr. Peter Machado, who had handed him a memorandum listing the reasons for religious minorities' opposition to the new law.

"He promised us that he would study the ordinance carefully before deciding whether to sign it," recounted Karnataka Bishops' Conference spokesman Fr. Faustine Lobo. Instead, just 24 hours later, the governor officially gave his assent. "We are very bitter," commented Fr. Lobo again. The point is not conversions, but the government's choice to ignore the contribution made by the Christian community to the people of Karnataka."

Under the new law, any person who is a "victim" of attempts at "forced conversion," his or her parents and relatives or even a colleague, can file a complaint of conversion that contravenes the provisions of the law. The offense is considered so serious that it does not allow for release on bail. 

The law reads, "No person shall convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any other person from one religion to another by use or practice of force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or by any other means or promise of marriage, nor shall any person abet or conspire such conversion. Those who wish to change religions according to the standard should submit a written statement attesting to their wishes in advance."

The problem lies in the arbitrariness of the definitions, which make it extremely easy to use such a norm to target Christian institutions in an Indian state where no change in religious composition is taking place: in Karnataka, Christians were 1.91 percent in the 2001 census and had become 1.87 percent in the 2011 census (the last one conducted in India).

"It is a matter of great concern," Msgr. Machado had warned in recent days, "that the anti-conversion law will become a tool available to extremist bangs to take the law into their hands and vitiate the atmosphere with provocations, false accusations and community unrest.

With Karnataka,10 Indian territories now have anti-conversion laws. The first to adopt them was Orissa back in 1968, followed by Madhya Pradesh (1968) and Arunachal Pradesh (1978). But it was especially with the rise of the BJP in the 2000s that these measures were expanded and often even later strengthened in Chhattisgarh (2000), Gujarat (2003), Himachal Pradesh (2006), Jharkhand (2017), Uttarakhand (2018), and Uttar Pradesh (2020). 

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