Bengaluru Archbishop Peter Machado on Monday said that he will meet Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai to reiterate the concerns of the Christian community on the proposed anti-conversion law in the state, reported The Indian Express.
“The government’s proposal for ACB [anti-conversion bill] is unnecessary as it would affect religious harmony,” he said at a press briefing. “It is arbitrary as it tends to target only the Christian community.”
On September 29, Bommai had said that the state government was planning to enact a law banning forceful religious conversions. He claimed that such conversions had become rampant in the state.
A delegation of Catholic bishops from Karnataka had then met Bommai and expressed their concern on the proposed law.
On Monday, Machado said that the Christian community will oppose the state government’s move to introduce the anti conversion law.
He also said that the Backward Class and Minority Welfare Department has directed the administration and the police to conduct a survey of religious personnel and places of worship, institutions and establishments belonging to the the Christian community, reported PTI. Machado asked for this order to be withdrawn.
The archbishop claimed that “random and sporadic” incidents might show the Christian community in a bad light. He added that many groups would get the wrong perception, leading to a breach of peace in the state.
“Moreover, the anti-conversion Bill would become a tool for the fringe elements to take law into their own hands and vitiate the atmosphere with communal unrest in the otherwise peaceful state,” he said.
Machado cited Article 25 (freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion) and Article 26 (freedom to manage religious affairs) of the Constitution and said that the proposed law would infringe upon the rights of the citizens.
He said that various educational institutions and medical facilities are run by members of the Christian community. He added that these facilities serve thousands of residents and asked the government to prove that even one of these people had been coerced to change their religion.
“Notwithstanding this, if the government is still bent on introducing anti conversion Bill, we are afraid it will only fall into the hands of the undesirable elements and the fringe groups who will target the Christian community and attack our churches and institutions,” he said.
He told The Indian Express that the community would decide on organising a silent protest if the proposed law is not withdrawn.
The archbishop also said that the Church would look into allegations that 36 instances of forced conversions had taken place in the state.
“While most of these allegations are baseless, we will look into these matters to ascertain if there is any veracity in such reported incidents,” Machado said.
Bommai’s remarks about enacting the law had come a week after state Home Minister Araga Jnanendra made a similar statement in the Karnataka Assembly.
In the Assembly, Bharatiya Janata Party MLA from Hosadurga, Goolihatti Shekhar, had claimed that 15,000 to 20,000 people, including his own mother, had converted to Christianity in his constituency.
Another BJP MLA KG Bopiah alleged that foreign missionaries had been carrying out such forced conversions systematically through some organisations in the region.
In the past year, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh have passed laws banning forced religious conversions.
On August 19, the Gujarat High Court ordered a stay on several sections of the state’s law, including one that defined interfaith marriage as a reason for forceful conversion. The state government has said that it will approach the Supreme Court against the order.