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Deliberating law to curb ‘involuntary religious conversions’: Karnataka minister

This comes in the wake of BJP legislator Goolihatti D Shekar saying there has been “heightened activity” around conversions. “In Chitradurga (district) and my constituency (Hosadurga) around 15,000-20,000 people have already been converted,” he said
Karnataka chief minister Basavaraj Bommai. (File photo)
Updated on Sep 21, 2021 06:40 PM IST
By Sharan Poovana

The Karnataka government on Tuesday said it is deliberating on introducing a law and taking other measures to check “involuntary religious conversions” after a ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator raised the issue in the state assembly and claimed his mother has been converted after she was “brainwashed”.

Goolihatti D Shekar, the legislator, said there has been “heightened activity” around conversions. “In Chitradurga (district) and my constituency (Hosadurga) around 15,000-20,000 people have already been converted,” he said.

Shekar said his mother was taken to a church and asked not to apply vermillion on her forehead, remove all photos of Hindu gods and puja items from the house. He claimed his mother was also asked to listen only to “Christian songs” and has even changed her ringtone, which has become an embarrassment within the family. “Dalits, backward classes, and even Muslims are converted,” he said.

Shekar said those who resist are slapped with false cases of atrocities and even rape among other charges. He added that if some want to convert, it is their wish but that they should leave all the benefits of the faith or group they were entitled to and include themselves in the one they are joining.

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Other legislators supported the proposal for a law against conversations, which they said was disturbing the peace of society.

Assembly speaker Visweswara Heggade Kageri said he had spoken about the issue in detail between 1999 and 2001 during the SM Krishna-led Congress government in the state. “There are many other states which have this law, and it would be useful if we too bring in something,” said Kageri.

Devanand Fulsasingh Chavan, a Janata Dal (Secular) or JD(S) legislator, alleged Christian missionaries were targeting the vulnerable Banjara community in his constituency of Nagthan in Vijayapura district. He added entire settlements of these communities have been converted in recent years.

Araga Jnanendra, the state home minister said the government is aware of these developments and deliberating on the law and other measures at the earliest. He sought details of organisations slapping false charges. Jnanendra said the charges will be investigated and action will be taken against such people or missionaries.

BJP-ruled states such as Madhya Pradesh have criminalised what they call forced religious conversion, including through interfaith marriages. Critics of the legislation say they are being misused to target minorities.

There have also been allegations, especially against Christian missionaries, that they lure weak and oppressed people and convert them by promising monetary and other rewards.

“For adult baptism, we ask the concerned party to go to the court to make an affidavit or a notary and in that we record that it is not out of force and out of voluntary commitment to come to the church for Baptism,” Rev PK Samuel, the Bishop of the Church of South India told Hindustan Times on Tuesday.

The Reverend said that the CSI is a mainline church and does not use such (forceful) methodology.

“Unless there is a court affidavit or notary, we do not allow Baptism in my church and all the priests have been given this instruction. This (pattern) has not been there now but for the last 20-25 years,” he said. There are 125 churches in the Diocese.

“We allow children because the parents belong to the church,” the Reverend added.

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