Police In Karnataka Colluded With Hindutva Groups That Attacked Christians: PUCL Report
The police in Karnataka colluded with Hindutva groups that attacked Christian worshippers in the state, says a damning report released by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL).
A report named ‘Criminalizing the Practice of Faith: A report by PUCL Karnataka on the Hate Crimes on Christians in Karnataka, 2021’ documents 39 incidents of hate crimes against Christian in Karnataka from January till November 2021.
“Given the frequency and intensity of these attacks, our report relies on the Christian community’s narratives of surviving majoritarian violence. The members of the Christian community especially in rural Karnataka continue to face threats of violence, discrimination, and survival in the course of their everyday lives,” the report states.
PUCL in its report has documented a) the attacks on pastors, believers, and Churches in Karnataka between January – November 2021, b) the modus operandi of the Hindutva groups behind these attacks and c) the patterns that emerge from these attacks.
“In most cases, Christians have been forced to shut down their places of worship and stop assembling for their Sunday prayers. Effectively, these attacks on praying in a gathering that is enforced by Hindutva groups with the complicity of the State function as a bar on the freedom to practice religion itself. Far from the right to propagate religion, today the attacks in Karnataka are actually on the right to freely profess and practise religion,” the report states.
“During the pandemic when thousands more lived on the brink of survival, instead of focusing on people-centric governance, the state was complicit in antagonizing those praying. In many cases of mob violence, the police arrested pastors and believers. They even issued formal notices to churches to stop prayer meetings. This failure of the State further marginalizes a minority community in how they live their lives struggling to access education, shelter, food, livelihood, and basic dignity during COVID,” it adds.
“The perpetrators behind these communal hate crimes in all the 39 instances are Hindutva organizations, namely Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Bajrang Dal, and Hindu Jagran Vedike. In two instances of hate crimes in Karwar (October 4) and Mandya (January 25), Bharatiya Janata Party MLA Sunil Hegde and 3-time BJP MLA Narayana Gowda (currently Minister of State for Youth Empowerment and Sports, Planning, Program monitoring, and Statistics) were also named as people who supported the police in targeting Christians. A new organization name that has emerged from the accounts is that of Banjara Nigama. This organization appears to be small but rather violent.
“What is particularly alarming is the discrimination and social boycott that the Christians have faced from persons who are not a part of these Hindutva organizations. Such as their own neighbours, landowners, employers, small businesses like grocery stores, even schools, in their localities.”
“Almost in every instance of mob violence studied in this report, it can be observed in the chain of events that the police have colluded with Hindutva groups. With the overt guidance of the local leaders of BJP, RSS, Bajrang Dal, Hindu Jagran Vedike, and Banjara Nigama, the police actively work to criminalize the lives of Christians and stop them from organizing prayer meetings. This complicit role of the police emboldens a culture of intolerance and bigotry. Through the complicity, police have become an arm of social segregation strengthening of such Hindutva forces,” it added.
Adding that such attacks were in violation of Article 25 of the Indian Constitution, the report stated “When Christians pray in churches or pray in their homes, they are doing nothing more than exercising their right to profess and practice their faith. This attack by right-wing elements is nothing other than an attack on the right to profess a faith and practise a faith, leave alone propagate a faith.”
The report also addresses the role of media in setting narratives of such incidents and sensationalizing the issue by exploiting the technique of investigative journalism.
“We see that the media coverage is a mix of specious arguments, misleading statements, outright falsehoods, one-sided reporting and bias in favour of Hindutva forces and against Christianity. The reports are mostly sensationalist in nature, often deploying the device of ‘sting operations’ as if someone had been caught doing something illegal, whereas constitutionally, the activities are not only legal but an exercise of fundamental rights,” it writes.
The report highlighted the small share of the 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 criminalize the practice of faith by Christians.”