Law against involuntary religious conversions on anvil: BJP minister in Karnataka assembly
The Karnataka government on Tuesday said it is deliberating on introducing a law to “check involuntary religious conversions”, after a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator raised the issue in the state assemblyearlier in the day, claiming his mother was “brainwashed” into converting to a different religion.
Gulihatti 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 by some people from the missionary and asked not to apply vermillion (sindoor) 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. “If some want to convert, it is their wish, but they should leave all the benefits of the faith or group they were entitled to and include themselves in the one they are joining,” he said.
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 state would investigate the charges and take action against such people or missionaries. 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 that have this law, and it would be useful if we too bring in something,” said Kageri.
Devanand Fulsasingh Chavan, a Janata Dal (Secular) legislator, alleged Christian missionaries were targeting the vulnerable Banjara community in his constituency of Nathan in the Vijayapura district. He added entire settlements of these communities got converted in recent years.
BJP-ruled states such as Madhya Pradesh have criminalised what they call forced religious conversion, including interfaith marriages. Critics of the legislation say they are 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. 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 (CSI) told Hindustan Times on Tuesday.
The Reverend said that the CSI is a mainline church and does not use forceful methods. “Unless there is a court affidavit or notary, we do not allow baptism in our church. All the priests have this instruction. The 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.