Indian police ban Christian community from holding religious services

(Photo: REUTERS / Adnan Abidi)People watch a religion conversion ceremony, where devotees are converted from Christianity to Hinduism, at Hasayan town in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh August 29, 2014.

It's only a small village, but police in India's southern Karnataka state have placed a ban on 5 Christian families from gathering for worship services.

They based the ban on the assumption that they must have been coercively or fraudulently converted, as they are not Christian by birth.

International Christian Concern said on Jan. 8 that the police had banned the Christians from gathering for worship services indefinitely.

They justified what ICC said is unconstitutional action by claiming that none of the approximately 50 Christians were Christian by birth and must have been coercively or fraudulently converted to Christianity.

On Jan. 4, Christian families in Bannimardatti village, in the Hassan District, were summoned to a meeting with the Deputy Superintendent of Police along with other police officials.

At the meeting, the DSP asked the Christians to show evidence that they were Christian and accused them of collecting government benefits as both Christians and Hindus.

The police officer then banned the Christians from gathering for worship in Bannimardatti village.

"This is the final attempt of Hindu radicals using the state police to clamp down on Christian activities," a local Christian told ICC on the condition of anonymity.

"They have tried everything, including social boycotts and physical beatings. However, local Christians remained faithful in the midst of continued harassment."

ICC said that the police deputy superintendent's order is in direct conflict with India's citizens' religious freedom rights under Article 25 of the constitution.

Article 25 says that Indian citizens have the freedom to profess, practice, and propagate the religion of their choice.

"There is no freedom whatsoever to gather for worship and practice the faith of our choice," a local pastor told ICC.

"The divide between communities is growing, and the anti-conversion law that the state government of Karnataka is trying to enact will worsen the situation for religious minorities."

Karnataka's state government is led by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politicians, who pledged to enact a law to regulate religious conversions and criminalize fraudulent religious conversions.

William Stark, ICC's Regional Manager, said, "We here at International Christian Concern are deeply concerned by the actions taken by police in Karnataka.

"India's police should be protecting the rights of the country's citizens, not unilaterally stripping citizens of their rights due to their religious identity."

Three other BJP-led states, including Madhya Pradesh, Assam, and Haryana, have made similar pledges after Uttar Pradesh, another BJP-led state, promulgated India's newest anti-conversion law in November 2020.

"Radical Hindu nationalists have used the specter of mass religious conversions to Christianity as justification to pass similar laws limiting religious freedom.

"According to these nationalists, Indian Christians are accused of converting poor Hindus to Christianity in mass by fraudulent means," said ICC.

It pointed out that India's own population data does not support this conspiracy. In 1951, the first census after independence, Christians made up 2.3 percent of India's population. According to the 2011 census, the most recent census data available, Christians still make up 2.3 percent of the people.

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