Christians in the Indian state of Karnataka are worried that a proposed new law to ban religious conversion will lead to increased persecution.
In a report calling on the State Government to act immediately to stem anti-Christian activity, the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) said there had been 39 reports of threats or violence against Christians in the state between January and November 2021.
However, it cautioned this was unlikely to be the true number, saying, “many incidents go unreported either due to the fear of retribution or the non-cooperation of the local police”.
Karnataka is controlled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which also holds power nationally, and it is their Freedom of Religion Bill – widely known as the Anti-conversion law – which is causing concern among Christians in the state.
Under the proposals, Christians attempting to share the Gospel could find themselves facing up to ten years in prison if a court decides they have been converting others by ‘force’, ‘fraudulent’ methods or marriage, with the vague terms allowing for broad interpretation.
The rules would have a financial impact too, with anyone converting from one religion to another potentially seeing their Government benefits stopped.
Christians make up around 2.3 per cent of the Indian population, approximately 28 million nationally. But only around 1.1 million live in Karnataka, well below the national average, compared to over 51 million Hindus and almost 8 million Muslims.
The Indian constitution guarantees everyone’s right to “propagate religion”, and previous attempts to restrict religious conversion by legislating on a national level have failed. However, the BJP enacted a similar law in Uttar Pradesh and in just one year the police have registered more than 100 claims of forcible conversion.
The Reverend Vijayesh Lal, General Secretary of the EFI, says this is a deliberate attempt from some Hindus to restrict religious freedom. “You push the community, you take them down, you level false allegations of conversion and then bring in a law which is unconstitutional.”
The EFI believes that some aggressors are increasingly feeling empowered to target Christians by the talk of potential legislation, with the report stating: “The escalating situation seems to be getting out of hand and so far there is no effective response from higher political and police authorities to stem the hate campaign and threats which are being carried out by persons and through social media.
“The Christian community in Karnataka has a good reason to apprehend an outbreak of violence against them.”