Police ban Indian Christian families from worship, accuse them of false conversion

Indian Catholic devotees offer the way of the cross prayers after an Ash Wednesday service at Saint Mary's Basilica in Secunderabad, the twin city of Hyderabad, on March 5, 2014.
Indian Catholic devotees offer the way of the cross prayers after an Ash Wednesday service at Saint Mary's Basilica in Secunderabad, the twin city of Hyderabad, on March 5, 2014. | AFP via Getty Images/Noah Seelam

Police in the southern Indian state of Karnataka have banned 15 Christian families from gathering for worship services based on the presumption that they must have been coercively or fraudulently converted to Christianity as they are not Christian by birth.

The deputy superintendent of police of Karnataka’s Hassan District and his colleagues summoned the families in Bannimardatti village this week and asked them to prove that they were Christian, accusing them of availing benefits provided by the government as both Christians and Hindus, persecution watchdog International Christian Concern reported.

The officer then ordered the Christians to not gather for worship services in their village.

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“This is the final attempt of Hindu radicals using the state police to clamp down on Christian activities,” a local Christian was quoted as saying. “They have tried everything including social boycotts and physical beatings. However, local Christians remained faithful in the midst of continued harassment.”

Karnataka is governed by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which also governs at the federal level. Incidents targeting Indian Christians have risen steeply since 2014 when Narendra Modi of this party came to power. 

The country is ranked No. 10 on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of the countries where it's most difficult to be a Christian.

Last month, India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, approved a controversial anti-conversion law that experts warn will “incite more religiously motivated violence” as attacks on Christians and other religious minorities continue to escalate.

ICC noted that historically, radical Hindu nationalists have used the “specter of mass religious conversions to Christianity as justification to pass similar laws limiting religious freedom,” though Christians make up just 2.3% of the population. 

Earlier this month, a Korean Christian, 50-year-old Mi Kyung Lee of Seoul, and three Indian citizens were imprisoned in Uttar Pradesh for providing food and other aid to the poor. Accused of fraudulent conversion attempts, the four individuals were the first to be imprisoned under the state’s anti-conversion law, according to Morning Star News.

Raj Kumar Masih, an organizer overseeing the distribution of aid, told the outlet that he had organized relief aid to thousands of people since obtaining permission from the Additional District Magistrate on March 23, 2020. Aid was distributed in various areas, including at his church site.

Similar anti-conversion laws have also been enacted in the states of Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand.

These laws embolden Hindu militant groups to make false accusations against Christians. Police often overlook violence perpetrated against believers due to the false accusations of forced conversions.

India was not named by the U.S. State Department last year as among the “countries of particular concern” that have “engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom.”

In a statement to The Christian Post, advocacy group The Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America said it was “deeply disappointed” India did not receive the CPC designation in 2020.

“The national government allowed violence against minorities and their houses of worship to continue with impunity and engaged in and tolerated hate speech and incitement to violence,” FIACONA said. “The Indian government headed by the Hindu nationalist BJP party continues to claim so conveniently that all such violence against Christians in India is isolated incidents and not the policy of the government.”

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