The police in Karnataka colluded with Hindutva groups that attacked Christian worshippers in the state, said a report released by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties on Tuesday.
In the report, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties’ Karnataka unit documented 39 incidents of violence against Christians in the state this from January to November. It includes the testimonies of pastors who conducted prayers that were disrupted by Hindutva mobs.
The document added that many instances of violence against Christians go unreported.
The report said that Karnataka has seen a sharp increase in violent attacks led by Hindutva groups on Christians during prayer meetings.
“While these attacks on the face of it appear to be geographically spread out, in reality, they arise out of a far sinister concerted political project of reducing Christians to second-class citizens who must not be allowed to exercise their constitutionally provided fundamental right of religion,” the report said.
In one such incident, which took place in Karnataka’s Mandya city this January, a group of Christians were attacked near their home, allegedly by members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a pastor, named Harish, said in his testimony. He claimed that, instead of the attackers, the police detained some of the Christians.
The pastor said that after the incident, he went to the police station with some other people. “The mob was also present there, and they continued to verbally abuse and threaten some women who were trying to stand up for themselves,” the pastor said.
Pastor Harish said he tried to file a complaint against the attackers but was not allowed to do so. Instead, the police seized a laptop belonging to a Christian woman and threatened to plant evidence on it, the pastor alleged.
“Even if there is no evidence, we know how to make the case against you very strong so the Christians will never come out of jail,” the pastor quoted a police inspector as saying.
In another incident that took place in Udupi in September, the police refused to give the complainants an acknowledgement that they had registered a complaint against a mob that had attacked them during a prayer meet.
Pastor Vinay, who conducted the prayer meeting, said that within 15 minutes of the ceremony starting, a group of about 30 men barged into the venue and started beating worshippers.
“Many of our believers sustained bruises and injuries from this violence. Two people’s clothes were torn including a woman’s blouse,” the pastor said.
Soon after that, the police entered the prayer hall and asked Christian worshippers why they were praying on Ganesh Chaturthi. “I tried to explain that our prayer hall, which we used for 10 years, was suddenly unavailable, and there is a weekend curfew that will not allow us to have our prayer on Sunday,” the pastor was quoted as saying in the report.
The pastor said that when he went to the police station to file a complaint against the attackers, he learnt that a first information report had been filed against him instead.
The police also told the worshippers that they could not protect them. “There will be a law-and-order problem, so it is better if we don’t do prayer meetings at all,” the pastor quoted the police as saying. He added that two weeks after the incident, prayers were completely stopped.
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How mobs operate
After studying incidents of violence against Christians in Karnataka, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties came up with a pattern of how mobs function.
First, the leaders of Hindutva groups organise a mob and identify places in their locality where Sunday prayers take place. Then, the mob informs the local police station of the attack that they will carry out, the report said.
The human rights groups added that 25 to 30 people from the mob force their way into the place of worship, accuse pastors of converting Hindus to Christianity. They hurl casteist abuses and beat people with rods and sticks, the report found. Women are attacked “physically, verbally and sexually”, the report said.
Soon after, the police enter, use abusive language with worshippers and “violently demand identity documents”, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties said.
The group, citing victims of attacks, said that in most cases, the police enter prayer halls just minutes after mobs. “This led many Christians to believe that the police knew that the attack would happen, and were supporting them [mobs] in their crusade against Christianity,” the report said.
The People’s Union for Civil Liberties found in its study that instead of arresting the attackers, they arrest pastors and worshippers, charging them under sections such as 295A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) of the Indian Penal Code.
The People’s Union for Civil Liberties’ report found a common pattern in incidents where Christian prayers were disrupted – the use of casteist slurs.
“These casteist slurs must be seen in the context that Christians in rural India largely comprise of daily wage workers, agricultural labourers and people from Dalit communities,” the report said.
The group also pointed out that when mobs attack churches, the first thing they do is ask worshippers the caste into which they were born and their family names.
“The situation soon escalates, as they abuse the pastor and believers by using derogatory words and phrases that insult people based on their castes and casteist stereotypes,” it said.
The report by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties highlighted that Christians in rural and semi-rural areas of Karnataka are from poor and lower caste communities. “Prayer meetings held on Sunday mornings are important spaces that provide support and a sense of belongingness,” the report added.
The People’s Union for Civil Liberties said Hindutva groups threatening to shut down these prayer meetings rob an entire community of its right to dignity and the right to life.
Disproving claims of mass conversion
The report highlighted the small share of Christian population in India to deflate the claim of forced mass conversion.
It said that according to the 1971 Census, Christians comprised 2.60% of the population of India. “In 1981 they [Christians] were 2.44%, in 1991 2.33%, in 2001 2.18% and at present, they are 2.30%,” the report said.
The document added that as per the 2011 Census, Christians accounted for 1.87% of the population. “Thus, the statistics do nothing to suggest that the Christian population is increasing,” the report said.
The report pointed out that Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai has publicly spoken about his plan to table an anti-conversion Bill in the Assembly.
The People’s Union for Civil Liberties added in its report: “Evidently, without an increased population there is nothing to substantiate the claim of forced mass conversions. At the very outset these numbers are proof that forced mass conversion is a myth, a bogey that is being used to criminalise the practice of faith by Christians.”