Christians join Muslims as targets of Hindutva groups in Karnataka

Christians in Karnataka make up less than two per cent of the population but suffer the third-largest number of hate crimes in India. Civil rights bodies recorded 305 cases of hate attacks in the last year with a significant number of them against Dalit Christians.

Members of Christian community and supporters hold placards during a protest rally against the Anti-Conversion bill, which was tabled yesterday during the Winter Session of Karnataka Legislative Assembly, in Bengaluru, Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2021. | Photo: PTI.

KARNATAKA — The BJP-ruled state of Karnataka has emerged as the new ‘Hindutva laboratory’ where Christians joined Muslims as the targets of the far-right groups, observed civil and human rights groups.

In the last year, as many as 305 incidents of violence allegedly against the members of the Christian community took place till the month of November 2021. The attacks include 39 incidents of hate crime in southern Karnataka state, according to data compiled by the joint initiative of the United Christians Forum (UCF), Association for Protection of Civil Rights (APCR) and United Against Hate (UAH). 

According to the recently released report, the law and order machinery in most of the cases was largely ignored or remained inactive in taking action against the culprits.  

Most of the cases are directed against the Dalit Christians on the charges of ‘conversion’. The right-wing groups accuse the Christian missionaries of indulging in converting poor Dalits into Christianity by offering them rice bags. As a result, the far-right groups use the pejorative term against Dalits converts, calling them ‘rice bag Christians.’

The recent attacks against Christians have also triggered international concern with many leading news outlets, including The New York Times, Washington Post, The Guardian among others, raising concern on the reports of harassment and intimidation of the members of the Christian community.

While many cases go unreported, few major incidents the aforementioned rights group have taken note of, but not figured in the report as they happened in the month of December-January, are sufficient to conclude that Karnataka has become a place where “members of minority communities fear to tread,” as phrased by one of the members involved in the compilation of the hate crime cases.

Attacks in December-January
A group of Hindutva organizations on December 29 allegedly attacked a Dalit family in the village of Tukkanatti in the Belagavi district, accusing the victim of converting their neighbours into Christianity. Five members of the Dalit family, including 3 women, were injured. A woman suffered a burn injury after an attacker allegedly threw hot curry on her. On January 02, journalist Imran Khan shared a video of the attack on Twitter which purportedly shows that a “far-right goon beating a man, and pulling Sari off a woman.”

A similar attack had taken place on December 28, in Tumakuru district’s Kunigal where women fought off members of the Hindutva group Bajrang Dal who allegedly barged into their house accusing the family of conversion.

Earlier, in Mandya district, a group of right-wing people allegedly barged into a convent school and disrupted a small Christmas celebration, threatening school authorities. 

On December 23, a group of right-wing activists barged into a convent school in Karnataka’s Mandya district to disrupt a small Christmas celebration taking place, threatening school authorities. On the same day, the Karnataka state assembly passed new anti-conversion legislation, called the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021.

Attacks linked with conversion
“The recent attacks on Christians have a similar pattern, they are linked with conversion. If you look at all the attacks recently in 2021 at Karnataka, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, the so-called Hindutva groups that attacked Christians and their place of worship has one thing in common which is [Conversion] as the main reason for they attacking my religion”, Jeffrey Lawrence, a Christian from Kanyakumari, said.

“They are doing it out of fear of the Muslims combined with Christians will soon convert India to a Christian Muslim Nation”, Lawrence, said. 

“Actually, this is a phobia created by the leaders who belong to the fanatic sect called Hindutva. They are the ones responsible for brainwashing innocent Hindus to wage war against their own citizens”, he added.

“The hate speeches given by BJP leaders like Tejasvi Surya, work to increase the attacks against minorities,” Sarah, a local resident of Karnataka, said.

Lawrence further said that “when Indian politicians visit European countries or western countries just to show they love Christianity, some fall at the feet of the Pope in Rome and some worship Christian books in front of the Pope at Vatican and some visit Churches in America and share a good relationship with the pastors there.” 

“This is all done for photo-ops and for the fear of being criticized by Christians all over the world for badly treating their own Indian Christians back home”, Lawrence said.

Christians in Karnataka make up less than two per cent of the population but suffer the third-largest number of hate crimes in India. 

Notably, the state assembly has also passed an “anti-conversion bill’ amid opposition from several Congress and other smaller parties. Defending the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai said the bills would ‘stop forced conversion’. The Christian and Muslim communities as well as members of civil rights groups oppose such laws. They alleged that these laws have been recklessly used to harass and obstruct preaching and propagation of religion, particularly by the minority community. Notably, such laws have been passed by most of the BJP-ruled states.

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