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INDIA: Law preventing free religious conversion in Karnataka

Law preventing free religious conversion in Karnataka is “contrary to the Constitution and human dignity”

Agenzia Fides (05.10.2022) – https://bit.ly/3SPJCS2  – The recent bill that seeks to regulate religious conversions in the Indian state of Karnataka – a state in Southwestern India with more than 64 million inhabitants – goes against the Constitution, violates human dignity, freedom of conscience and religious freedom: this is what Father Irudhaya Jothi, a Jesuit committed to works and social services in the State, declared to Agenzia Fides.

 

The legislation that the Upper House of the State of Karnataka (the “Karnataka Legislative Council”, in the bicameral system) has definitively approved – after the approval of the Lower House in December 2021 – “is a draconian law is unjustified”, observes the religious. “Its objective is to scare Christians and members of other communities, to strengthen support for Hindu nationalist parties”, he argues.

 

The current provisions of the bill “can be misused to discourage poor and oppressed communities, especially Dalits (untouchable and marginalized groups) and tribal communities, from education, employment and social assistance programs,” observes the Jesuit.

Father Devasagayaraj M. Zacharias, former secretary of the Office for Dalits of the Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), agrees: “The Constitution of India – he reminds Fides – enshrines the fundamental right of the person to profess, practice and propagate any conscientiously chosen religion. The enactment of the anti-conversion law is contrary to the Indian Constitution and must be challenged in court”.

 

“The procedure to convert from one faith to another – he points out – is so cumbersome and bureaucratic that it is almost impossible to complete the religious conversion”. In particular, all Dalits who wish to convert to Christianity “will be hampered only by a political issue.”

 

The “Karnataka Right to Freedom of Religion Bill” was passed by the Karantaka Lower House on December 23, 2021, but was not presented to the Upper House because the “Bharatiya Janata Party” (BJP), the Hindu nationalist formation that promoted it, did not have a majority in that assembly at the time.

 

In 2022, thanks to some administrative votes, the BJP also obtained a majority in the Upper House, with 41 members out of 75. On September 15, the bill was introduced by the BJP and approved.

 

“The Supreme Court has affirmed that freedom of religion does not allow forced conversions. There is freedom of conversion, but not under duress or seduction”, said Karantaka’s Interior Minister, Araga Jnanendra, when presenting the bill on September 15 and justifying the legislation.

 

“Religious conversion must be regulated: this is the intention behind the bill. We do not want to deprive anyone of a right, nor violate Article 25 of the Constitution [which guarantees the right to practice and propagate religion, ed.]”, stated the Prime Minister of Karnataka, Basavaraj Bommai, explaining the purpose of the law: “We want to maintain law and order and prevent religious conflicts”.Catholic writer and journalist John Dayal comments to Fides: “This is not the way to prevent conflicts.

 

In fact, the law violates the rule of law and religious freedom. Let us remember that India is a democratic republic that has always sanctioned and protected the fundamental rights of the people, including the freedom to profess, practice and propagate one’s religion.”

 

According to the bill, “no one can convert or attempt to convert, directly or indirectly, another person from one religion to another by false statement, force, undue influence, duress, seduction, or any fraudulent means, including through marriage; no one will encourage or organize religious conversions of other people”.In case of violation, a prison sentence of three to five years and a fine of 25,000 Indian rupees (307 dollars) is foreseen, while the prison sentence is raised to 10 years and the fine of 50,000 rupees (614 dollars) for those who convert minors, women and people from the “Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes” communities, considered marginalized and vulnerable groups.

 

According to the established procedure, if a person intends to change his faith, the minister of worship must notify the magistrate, who will announce it publicly on a notice board, pending the objections that, where appropriate, will be examined. Subsequently, if no doubts have arisen, the interested party will be summoned by the magistrate to verify his identity and confirm the content of the statement. In addition, family members, relatives or friends of a person who claims to have changed their beliefs can file a “complaint for forced conversion” in court.

 

The practice of proposing regulations that regulate or restrict religious conversion has taken hold for some years in the Indian Federation, thanks to the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. Several states in northern, western and eastern India such as Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand have passed laws restricting religious conversions. Karnataka, in southern India, has been the latest to enact such a law.

 

Indian Christians have always opposed these measures, and in some cases have filed legal challenges.

 

Photo: fides.org

Further reading about FORB in India on HRWF website





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INDIA : Christians wary as Indian state outlaws conversion

Christians wary as Indian state outlaws conversion

Archbishop Peter Machado of Bangalore says he will disclose stance on Karnataka’s latest anti-conversion law in court

UCA News (16.09.2022) – https://bit.ly/3BtPoBl – Archbishop Peter Machado of Bangalore had a guarded response a day after the provincial government in India’s southern state of Karnataka gave its final seal of approval to a law criminalizing religious conversions.

The state’s Legislative Council or upper house passed the contentious Karnataka Right to Freedom of Religion Bill with a majority vote on Sept. 15.

The anti-conversion law was already in force after the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which rules the state, promulgated an ordinance on May 17 with the signature of the state governor after it failed to muster enough support in the Legislative Council, whose final sanction is a must for any law to come into force.

The law was passed by the state Legislative Assembly last December but the BJP was one seat short of a majority in the 75-member upper house. Having mustered up enough numbers now, it went ahead in what is perceived as a well-planned political strategy.

The ordinance now stands repealed or canceled with the passage of the bill within six months of the governor issuing it, as required under the Indian Constitution.

The opposition Congress and Janata Dal (People’s Front) parties, however, called the move “unconstitutional.”

When contacted by UCA News on Sept. 16, Bishop Machado said he had already challenged the ordinance in the state’s high court and refused to make further comments on the new law.

The prelate said he would disclose his position before the court rather than make it public through the media.

Archbishop Machado, who heads the regional bishops’ forum, has been one of the fiercest critics of anti-conversion laws in the country.

“The Christian community feels betrayed when its sentiments are not taken note of. Its selfless services in the fields of education, healthcare and other social areas for the welfare of all communities are not taken into consideration,” he had said in a statement on May 18, a day after the Karnataka government promulgated the ordnance.

He had repeatedly drawn the attention of the BJP government and people of the state  that the law was “irrelevant and malicious” and “aimed at dividing the Christians from other religious minorities.”

Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai said there is no intention to take away anybody’s right to practice and propagate one’s religion as is being made out.

“If there have to be conversions then let them be as per a law and that is the intention behind this bill,” he added.

Home Minister Araga Jnanendra, who introduced the bill in the upper house, dismissed the concerns of Christians by saying “there is freedom to convert but not under coercion or allurement.”

The new law prescribes imprisonment of three to five years along with a fine ranging from Indian rupees 25,000 to 100,000 (US$330-1,330) in case of conversion due to “force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means” or “by a promise of marriage.”

Anyone wanting to change religion will have to file a declaration before designated government authorities at least 30 days in advance, citing the reasons for the decision.

On the issue of interfaith marriages, the law states that “any marriage which has happened with the sole purpose of unlawful conversion or vice-versa by the man of one religion with the woman of another religion either by converting himself before or after marriage or by converting the woman before or after marriage shall be declared as null and void.”

Christians in Karnataka state say Hindu groups have been aggressively targeting them since the pro- Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in the state in 2018.

“They attack our Churches, social institutions and the faithful by creating a false impression that Christians are illegally converting poor people,” said a Church official who did not want to be named.

Christians make up 1.87 percent of Karnataka’s 61 million people, according to the 2011 census.

Photo: Christians participate in a special ‘Prayer for our Country’ to celebrate Republic Day at the Union Chapel in Kolkata on January 26, 2020. (Photo: AFP/ UCAN files)

Further reading about FORB in India on HRWF website





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INDIA: 761 acts of violence committed against Indian Christians in 2021

761 acts of violence committed against Indian Christians in 2021, new report finds

By Anugrah Kumar

 

The Christian Post (09.04.2022) – https://bit.ly/3jwAyS3 – A federation of Indian American Christian groups says it documented at least 761 incidents of violence against Christians, including lynching and armed assaults last year. It is recommended that the U.S. and European governments impose sanctions on officials who promote violence and exclusion of religious minorities.

 

“The year 2021 has proven to be the most violent year for Christians in India,” said John Prabhudoss, the chairman of the Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America, at a press conference in Washington, D.C., this week.

 

Prabhudoss said FIACONA documented and analyzed all the 761 incidents, adding that the number of anti-Christian attacks is likely to be much higher because most of the incidents are not reported.

 

Christians and other minorities, he explained, do not trust the police, especially in rural areas. “The current hostile environment in India amplifies that distrust.”

 

Prabhudoss added that a survey by FIACONA in states where the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party is governing showed that 72% of Christians believe that the police will not protect their lives, liberty, property or their way of life.

 

The report by FIACONA said India’s judiciary is also not viewed as being independent and impartial.

 

“The higher courts in India have been passing judgments favoring views of the political establishments rather than based on legal merits of the cases,” it stated. “Many recent judgments have made some wonder if the integrity of the high courts is compromised.”

 

It adds, “Common citizens of India, especially the religious minorities, observe and feel that the governments led by BJP are implementing the majoritarian ideology, namely ‘Hindutva.’”

 

The government, it continued, “is subservient to” the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, an umbrella Hindu nationalist group, and its “multiple associates specializing in radical and violent means to exclude and demean the Christians.”

 

FIACONA also accused some media outlets and social media giants of being aligned with Hindu nationalists that are inciting attacks on religious minorities and calling for genocide.

 

“Most major media houses both in print and TV are either controlled or owned by tycoons who are in league with the Hindu nationalist ecosystem,” it said. “And it is more visible in Hindi and some other vernacular media. It has been confirmed that even social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter in India are manipulated by the radical Hindu sympathizers.”

 

A Hindu nationalist-leaning religious conclave, called Dharma Sansad, held in the city of Haridwar in the northern state of Uttarakhand from Dec. 17–19, 2021, called for genocide of religious minorities, the report noted, adding that another call for genocide was made by a different Hindu nationalist group in the southern state of Karnataka on Feb. 25.

 

The FIACONA report also noted that India’s “anti-conversion” laws are used as a tool to arrest religious minorities, including Christians, on false charges of forced conversions.

 

The anti-conversion laws presume that Christians pressure Hindus to convert to Christianity. Some of these laws have been in place for decades in some states. Radical Hindu nationalist groups frequently use the laws to make false charges against Christians and launch attacks on them under the pretext that they’re enticing people to convert with the promise of food gifts.

 

Under these laws, Christians are also prohibited from talking about the afterlife.

 

The report further noted that Overseas Friends of BJP USA, which is a registered outfit in the U.S. as a foreign agent under FARA regulations, is also an offshoot of the RSS “to provide a much needed support mechanism for their activities in India.”

 

“We recommend that India-based non-state actors and key officials that promote violence and exclusion of religious minorities from the society be identified and sanctioned by the United States and European governments,” it said.

 

Another report released by the United Christian Forum in India earlier this year recorded at least 486 violent incidents of Christian persecution in 2021.

 

The UCF also attributed the high incidence of Christian persecution to “impunity,” due to which “such mobs criminally threaten, physically assault people in prayer, before handing them over to the police on allegations of forcible conversions.”

 

Police registered formal complaints in only 34 of the 486 cases, according to the UCF. “Often communal sloganeering is witnessed outside police stations, where the police stand as mute spectators,” the UCF report stated.

 

“Hindu extremists believe that all Indians should be Hindus and that the country should be rid of Christianity and Islam,” an Open Doors fact sheet explains. “They use extensive violence to achieve this goal, particularly targeting Christians from a Hindu background. Christians are accused of following a ‘foreign faith’ and blamed for bad luck in their communities.”

 

The U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern earlier warned that “the pace of Christian persecution only seems to be accelerating with the arrival of 2022,” and “whether 2022 will be as violent of a year as 2021 is yet to be seen.”

 

Christians make up only 2.3% of India’s population and Hindus comprise about 80%.

 

Photo: Getty Images

Further reading about FORB in India on HRWF website





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INDIA: A Protestant pastor killed in the state of Chhattisgarh

A Protestant Christian pastor killed in Chhattisgarh

Agenzia Fides (28/03/2022) – https://bit.ly/3tS0lK9 – A 50-year-old Protestant Christian Pastor was murdered by a group of masked men in the district of Bijapur, in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh. The episode of violence, which took place on March 17, has only now been confirmed to Agenzia Fides. According to sources in the local Christian community, Pastor Yallam Shankar was having dinner at his home, around 7:00 pm on March 17, when a crowd of militants forced entry, dragged him out and stabbed him with a sharp weapon.

 

The attack took place while the Hindu festival of “Holika Dahan” (a festival that celebrates the victory of good over evil) was being celebrated in the village of Angampalli, where pastor Shankar lived.

 

Before starting to lead the small local Christian community, Pastor Shankar had served as head of the village council, where he had distinguished himself as an advocate for the rights of Christian minorities and helped those who suffered abuses and violations of rights to seek justice. Because of this commitment, Pastor Shankar had received several life threats, as well as the request, always rejected, to abandon Christianity and accept conversion to Hinduism.

 

On March 18, the day after the lynching, a report was registered at the Madded Police Station, a necessary step for the police to begin an investigation. For now, the police have not released any official communiqué, however there are several theories on the reason for the murder of the Pastor.

 

According to reports to Fides, a leaflet was found at the crime scene that seems to link the murder to the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA), a Maoist armed group that rages in the area. The leaflet accuses Pastor Shankar of being a police informant and announces the murder because he did not heed the warnings from the PLGA.

 

The police, however, deny that Shankar was an informant and are examining the hypothesis of the misdirection. On the other hand, the local clergy and members of the Christian community in the area believe that, despite the note, it is not clear whether the attack was really carried out by Maoists or whether other elements with ideas that promote violence against Christians are involved.

 

In a statement sent to Fides, the organization “Christian Solidarity Worldwide”, which monitors violence against Christians in the world, states: “Yallam Shankar was a man who served his village defending the rights of minorities and defending justice. Chhattisgarh is increasingly becoming a breeding ground for targeted attacks against Christians and the authorities’ efforts to stop this violence have so far proved insufficient. We urge the authorities in Chhattisgarh to conduct a swift and thorough investigation into this murder and to bring the perpetrators to justice for their actions”.
According to data collected by the “United Christian Forum” “in 2021 almost 500 cases of anti-Christian violence were reported in India”, recalls to Fides A.C. Michael, Catholic lay leader and UCF coordinator.

 

According to Michael, this is the tip of the iceberg, because “numerous cases of attacks against Christians are not reported and are not documented”. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 28/3/2022)

 

Photo : Pastor Yalam Sankar. (Credit: Sankar family.)

Further reading about FORB in India on HRWF website





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INDIA: Persecution of Christians and religious minorities

Persecution of Christians and religious minorities: Report

UK Parliament (22.02.2022) – https://bit.ly/3smM6fV – India is a multi-faith democracy, with a majority Hindu population. According to 2011 census data, 79.80% of the population of India is Hindu, 14.23% Muslim, 2.30% Christian, 1.72% Sikh, 0.70% Buddhist, and 0.37% Jain.

 

India’s constitution defines the nation as secular and protects freedom of religion or belief. However, there are concerns that religious minorities and other minority groups are suffering from persecution and discrimination, and that conditions have deteriorated in recent years.

 

Human rights groups have criticised the Government, which has been led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) since 2014, for not doing enough to protect minorities. Human Rights Watch, in its 2019 report on India claimed that “the government failed to properly enforce Supreme Court directives to prevent and investigate mob attacks, often led by BJP supporters, on religious minorities and other vulnerable communities”.

 

Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, who has led the BJP Government since it came to power, has defended its record on religious freedom. Mr Modi in an address to the US Congress in 2016, said: “For my government, the Constitution is its real holy book. And, in that holy book, freedom of faith, speech and franchise, and equality of all citizens, regardless of background, are enshrined as fundamental rights.”

Citizenship Amendment Act and violence against Muslims

India’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), passed by its Parliament in December 2019, has been a particular cause for concern for those worried about religious freedom in the country. BBC News outlined the purpose and effects of the law: “The act offers amnesty to non-Muslim illegal immigrants from three countries – Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.”

It amends India’s 64-year-old citizenship law, which currently prohibits illegal migrants from becoming Indian citizens.

It also expedites the path to Indian citizenship for members of six religious minority communities – Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian – if they can prove that they are from Muslim-majority Pakistan, Afghanistan or Bangladesh. They will now only have to live or work in India for six years – instead of 11 years – before becoming eligible to apply for citizenship.

The government says this will give sanctuary to people fleeing religious persecution, but critics argue that it will marginalise India’s Muslim minority.

 

In a press release, Amnesty International stated that the law “legitimises discrimination on the basis of religion and stands in clear violation of both the constitution of India and international human rights law”.

 

That same month as protests against the law sparked violent clashes, the Indian Prime Minister defended the law saying “we passed this bill to help the persecuted”. Mr Modi said the law would have “no effect on citizens of India, including Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Jains, Christians and Buddhists”. He also blamed the opposition for the protests, accusing them of “spreading lies and rumours” and “instigating violence” and “creating an atmosphere of illusion and falsehood”.

Violence against Muslims

Other causes for concern for India’s Muslims include mob violence against Muslims accused of killing cows, animals that are sacred to Hindus.

Human Rights Watch’s report on human rights in India in 2021 stated: “Hindu mobs beat up Muslims, often working class men, with impunity while pro-BJP supporters filed baseless complaints against critics, especially religious minorities.”

In January, a Muslim stand-up comic, Munawar Faruqui, and five of his associates were arrested on a complaint brought by the son of a BJP politician who accused him of hurting Hindu sentiments in jokes Faruqui apparently did not utter. Police subsequently admitted they had no evidence of the performance.

Discrimination against Christians and anti-conversion laws

According to a 2018 briefing by the Library of Congress, eight out of India’s twenty-nine states have Freedom of Religion Acts often called “anti-conversion” laws, that regulate religious conversions. These laws are seen to in particular target Christian groups. However, it is reported that there have been very few arrests or prosecutions under these laws.

According to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) an independent U.S. federal government commission that reports on religious freedom, the right to proselytize is protected alongside freedom of religion or belief in India’s constitution. However, religious freedom is “subject to public order”, a “vague phrase allowing the suspension of rights to protect social ‘tranquillity’”.

In its 2021 report (pdf) the USCIRF stated that “these anti-conversion laws are too often the basis for false accusations, harassment, and violence against non-Hindus that occur with impunity”. In 2020, the Commission detailed that [M]obs—fuelled by false accusations of forced conversions—attacked Christians, destroyed churches, and disrupted religious worship services. In many cases, authorities did not prevent these abuses and ignored or chose not to investigate pleas to hold perpetrators accountable.

Case of Stan Swamy

The case of Stan Swamy, an 83-year-old Jesuit Priest and human rights activist in India who died in custody in 2021 while awaiting trial on counter-terrorism charges, has been held up as an example of discrimination against India’s religious minorities. Nadine Maenza, chair of USCIRF, stated that “Father Stan Swamy’s death is a stark reminder of the egregious and ongoing persecution of India’s religious minority communities”.

Stan Swamy was first arrested on 8 October 2020, on the outskirts of Ranchi, the capital city of the eastern state of Jharkhand in India. The arrest and investigation were led by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), India’s counterterrorism enforcement agency, who stated that he was arrested in connection to a 2018 incident of caste-based violence and alleged links with Maoist rebels. The priest was transferred to Mumbai, where he was imprisoned reportedly under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

Stan Swamy was denied bail, and there were concerns over his treatment in prison. He died in July 2021. His death brought criticisms from opposition politicians and human rights organisations. Leader of the main opposition Congress party Rahul Gandhi tweeted that Swamy “deserved justice and humaneness”. United Nations Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor said she was devastated to hear about his death and that “jailing HRDs [Human rights defenders] is inexcusable”:

The Indian government said Swamy’s arrest followed “due process under law”, and that his bail had been denied because of the “specific nature of charges against him”. It added in a statement that “Authorities in India act against violations of law and not against legitimate exercise of rights. All such actions are strictly in accordance with the law”.

Photo : A controversial citizenship law has set off protests across India – AFP

Further reading about FORB in India on HRWF website

 


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