Karnataka minister Ashwathnarayan CN claimed that there had been no attacks on Christians in the state and the alleged cases were being portrayed as communal by people with “vested interests” to create a campaign, NDTV reported on Tuesday.
The state has seen several attacks by Hindutva outfits on Christians in the last 11 months.
However, the Basavaraj Bommai-led Cabinet began discussing an anti-conversion law in September. The chief minister had claimed on September 29 that forcible religious conversions had become rampant in the state.
However, a report released by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties on Tuesday listed 39 incidents of violence against Christians in Karnataka between January and November. The report noted that the state has seen a sharp increase in violent attacks led by Hindutva groups on Christians during prayer meetings.
The human rights organisation’s report also found that the police in Karnataka had colluded with Hindutva groups that attacked Christian worshippers in the state.
Earlier this month, a fact-finding report by the United Christians Forum, Association for Protection of Civil Rights and United Against Hate ranked Karnataka as third in the list of states with the highest number of attacks on Christians.
The report said that the state reported the highest number of such cases in south India. It said that 32 attacks on churches and Christians had taken place between January and September, reported The Hindu. Six attacks had occurred between October and December.
But, on Tuesday Ashwathnarayan claimed that there was “no question of attacking churches or Christians”.
“Some people might have created it to create this kind of perception, this kind of campaign,” the minister said in an interview to NDTV on Tuesday. “It can be created by anybody.... Some people with vested interests are creating this kind of campaign.”
When he was told that there were videos of the attacks, the BJP leader alleged that they could be fabricated.
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Data on forcible conversions not necessary, says BJP
While BJP leaders and state ministers have defended the need for an anti-conversion law in the state, they have not provided data to substantiate their claims about forcible conversions.
Instead, BJP leader Vaman Acharya told NDTV that “data is not necessary because it is evident”. He claimed that Christian population in the country had increased from 0.5% to 3%, according to the 2011 Census.
However, according to data from the 2011 Census, Christians accounted for 1.87% of the population. The People’s Union for Civil Liberties, in its report, also presented data of the community based on the previous Census.
The report noted that according to the 1971 Census, Christians comprised 2.60% of the population of India. The community formed 2.44% of the population in 1981 and 2.33% in 2001, according to the report.
“Thus, the statistics do nothing to suggest that the Christian population is increasing,” the report said.
BJP Karnataka unit’s spokesperson Giridhar Upadhayay also could not offer any data to back the party’s push for an anti-conversion law.
“The government has ordered a survey on churches which are registered and unregistered, and illegal churches,” Upadhayay told NDTV. “Because many of the houses have been converted into prayer halls where the people are lured into, and fear is brought into their mind...and all such things are happening.”
Karnataka’s proposal for an anti-conversion law has also repeatedly drawn criticism from Bengaluru Archbishop Peter Machado. He had on October 25 said that the Bill is “unnecessary as it would affect religious harmony” and that the proposed law is “arbitrary as it tends to target only the Christian community”.
Machado had also 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.
In the past one year, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh governments 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.