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New Delhi: Amid increasing attacks on Christians in Karnataka and the BJP-run state government’s intention to enact an anti-conversion law, the latest report by PUCL Karnataka has exposed the dubious claim of “forced conversions” which the right-wing groups rely on to unleash violence against the minority community.
Titled Criminalising Practice of Faith – A Report by PUCL Karnataka on Hate Crimes Against Christians in Karnataka, the 75-page report documents 39 instances when Christians were attacked in the period from January to November this year across Karnataka. The report also makes it clear that it has not been able to cover ‘all’ the instances of hate crimes against Christians, which had been covered earlier in another report titled Christians under attack in India released by the Association of Protection Civil Rights, United Christian Forum and United against Hate on October 21.
Based on the field survey into the above-mentioned 39 cases, the report notes that “mass conversion”, as alleged by Hindu mobs, is a pretext to launch attacks on Christians and churches. It indicts local police for their active collusion in emboldening vigilante groups who attack Christians, and in pressing charges of Section 295 A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) and Section 298 (Uttering, words, etc., with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person) of the IPC (Indian Penal Code) against pastors and believers of the community.
“Local Police is seen colluding with the Hindutva supremacists to incite fear and hatred against Christians and police commonly turn a blind eye to incidents of violence, abuse, sexual assaults, economic and social boycott,” the report states.
It also points to a “pattern” in launching these attacks, rather they being a result of a spontaneous outburst on the part of Hindutva groups to contain any conversion by coercion.
“We identify six patterns namely, assault on the right to freely practice religion, living under threat in a post-pandemic Karnataka, Perpetrators of Hate Crimes, Casteist Slurs as an attack on Dignity, Attacking the vulnerable among a marginalised community and Police Complicity in Hate Crimes,” the report adds.
According to the report, the Hindutva mobs follow a 10-step modus operandi in launching attacks against Christians. The step-by-step and methodical way, as represented visually in the report, includes Hindutva groups mobilising attackers days prior to the attack, tipping off police about “forced conversions”, resorting to vandalism in churches, beating up people, capturing video of the attacks, circulating those videos to propagate “victory” of Hindus, among others.
“In some cases, large mobs barged in during Sunday morning prayer meetings, and executed violent attacks leading to injury, damage to property, psychological and physical trauma. In some others, smaller mobs disrupted prayer meetings, threatening murder, criminal charges of forced conversion, excommunication or even the revoking of reservation rights. A common theme in these incidents is the threat of pressing criminal charges under Section 295 A and Section 298 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860,” the report adds.
It also further indicts a large section of mainstream Kannada media along with a few social media channels that actively promote and aid vigilantism by right-wings by repeatedly selling the “myth” of “forced conversions”.
“The media [Kannada media] coverage is a mix of specious arguments, misleading statements, outright falsehoods, one-sided reporting and bias in favour of Hindutva forces and against Christianity. The reports are mostly sensationalist in nature, often deploying the device of ‘sting operations’ as if someone had been caught doing something illegal, whereas constitutionally, the activities are not only legal but an exercise of fundamental rights,” the report notes based on the analysis of media reports.
Expressing its opposition to the proposed anti-conversion law, the report states, “Even without an anti-conversion law the attack on the Christian minorities has been a weekly affair. Such a bill is likely to only make matters worse for the Christian community by giving Carte Blanche for excesses by vigilantes.”