Karnataka conversion bill: Citizens rally demands withdrawal
12/22/2021: Members of more than 40 organizations came to the streets of Bengaluru to protest against a bill passed by the Karnataka assembly to regulate religious convention in the southern Indian state.
The December 21 rally demanded the withdrawal of “the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill 2021” that the rally organizers described as anti-people and unconstitutional.
The bill tramples upon the constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of religion, privacy and dignity, they said.
Speaking at the protest, constitutional law expert Arvind Narrain said that the Supreme Court has recognized that individuals have the freedom to dress the way they want, eat what they want and practice the faith they want. The bill by seeking to target conversions interferes with both the human right to dignity and the freedom to practice the faith of their choice.
Gowramma of Janwadi Mahila Sanghatan stated that Karnataka was facing dark days and that the bill is not just an attack on religion but an attack on all women. The bill presumes that women and individuals from Dalit and SC communities do not have the agency to decide the religion they want to belong to. Demanding that the state withdraw the bill, she asked that the government to pay more attention to problems of nutrition, unemployment and rising violence against women.
Archbishop Peter Machado of Bangalore urged the state to reconsider the bill and withdraw the bill, which he said is harmful to not only Christians but also many other communities. He pointed out that many laws exist already to prevent forced conversions. The Christian community has always served the country and its poor and forced conversions are a mortal sin for us, he added.
Yousuf Kunhi, Jamaat-e-Islami, Karnataka chapter, directly addressing the legislators of the Lingayat community, stated that by supporting the bill, they would be going against the teaching of their founder Basavanna. He also asked the supporters of the bill in the Assembly to resign because they won the elections on the basis of the Constitution and promised development, progress and communal harmony. If they cannot deliver on these promises, they have no right to continue in office, he asserted.
C S Dwarkanath, former chairperson of the State Backward Classes Commission, asked on what basis was the law being formulated without any discussions with experts and lawyers. Citing Ambedkar’s stance on conversion, he said that the constitution-maker had declared that people should not be born into a religion but should be allowed to choose their faith. It is also the inherent discrimination and the absence of fraternity within Hindu religion that prompts people to convert, he pointed out.
Clifton D’Rozario from All India Lawyers Association for Justice stated that this is a fascist attack on minorities, women and the oppressed in our society. Pointing to the Chief Minister B S Bommai attending an event organized by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal in the middle of the assembly session, he said that the CM had called conversion a big disease, the government was tackling it through such laws but the VHP and Bajrang Dal should start a state wide campaign about this. All this highlights the ways in which the fascist political project is being implemented through the law.
Ruth Manorama of Women’s Voice highlighted her own Dalit Christian identity and said that as an activist with 40 years of experience working with slum residents, Dalits and women and the capacity to mobilize lakhs of people, she had not converted even one individual. Arguing that the bill is anti-Christian, anti-Muslim, anti-Buddhist, she said that as citizens we believe in secularism and will protect it till our death.
Hindutva Leaders at Haridwar Event Call for Muslim Genocide
Despite the open calls for violence by leaders, many of whom have BJP connections, the police have failed to register cases or make arrests.
Between December 17 and 19, a large collection of major religious leaders, right-wing activists, hardline fundamentalist militants and Hindutva organisations came together at Haridwar for an event called the ‘Dharma Sansad’ or ‘Religious Parliament’. Over the course of three days, this event witnessed an extraordinary outpouring of hate speech, mobilisations to violence and anti-Muslim sentiment.
The event was also attended by BJP leader Ashwini Upadhyay, who has previously been arrested for an event he helped organise where slogans were raised calling for violence against Muslims, and BJP Mahila Morcha leader Udita Tyagi, giving the event a level of political encouragement from the ruling party.
New Delhi: The ‘Dharma Sansad’ organised at Haridwar in Uttarakhand on December 17-19 saw an assortment of leaders from the Hindutva ecosystem taking the stage to set a new benchmark for brazen hate speech in the country.
“We have to make preparations,” said Swami Prabodhanand Giri, president of the Hindu Raksha Sena, a right-wing organisation based out of Uttarakhand. “And I’ll tell you what preparations those are. I will make myself clear, this is the solution, and if you follow this solution, then the path is made for you… in Myanmar, Hindus were being chased away. The politicians, government and police were just standing and watching. They started by killing them by cutting their necks, and not only this, but they began to cut them in the streets and eat them. The people watching thought we are going to die, we are not going to live.”
“This is our state now. You have seen this at the Delhi border, they killed Hindus and hung them. There is no more time, the case now is that either you prepare to die now, or get ready to kill, there’s no other way. This is why, like in Myanmar, the police here, the politicians here, the army and every Hindu must pick up weapons and we will have to conduct this cleanliness drive (safai abhiyan). There is no solution apart from this.”
The statements calling for ethnic cleansing and genocide are particularly alarming given Prabodhanand’s connections with the BJP.
On two occasions, Prabodhanand has shared photographs of himself with Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath.
The first ‘photo op’ took place in January 2018, and the second a little over a year ago in August 2020 – and it continues to be the header image on his Facebook page today.
Adityanath is not the only BJP leader Prabodhanand has been connected with. On September 14, 2020, he was pictured with Naresh Sharma, a former BJP leader from Haridwar, who joined the Aam Aadmi Party a year later.
He was also photographed with the higher education minister of Uttarakhand and BJP member Shri Dhan Singh Rawat on August 12, 2021.
In June 2021, he was also photographed with former Uttarakhand CM and BJP member Tirath Singh Rawat, giving him a sword.
Prabodhanand’s anti-Muslim rhetoric is not a recent event. In 2017, he issued a widely reported statement calling for Hindus to have eight children for the purposes of contributing “towards conserving, preserving and protecting Hindutva and the society.”
In a speech at Shamli in 2018, he said that only Muslims rape Hindu women and spoke about the bogey of ‘love jihad’, apart from expressing other anti-Muslim sentiments.
He has also made genocidal statements in a video with Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati that was made public in June of this year. In that video, he says, “In the entire world, if we want humanity to last, we will need to clean it of jihadis. There should be treatment, management for jihadis on this earth. A few days ago someone said that in Islam, rapists are born, jihadis are born – I have been saying this for some time, there is a jihadi and a terrorist in each Islamic home… Hindu society needs to stand up and find a cure for jihadis, otherwise these jihadis will find a cure for Hindus, and there will be no place on this earth for us to live… One thing is certain, if he comes into my space and I find out, he will not leave. I have lived for 14 years among jihadis, I’m not that weak… They should not think that if Narsinghanand or I are killed, you can live happily. There will be a pile of corpses, across the country you will see corpses. This is certain, nobody will stop us.”
He goes on to tell all ‘jihadis’ to return to the Hindu faith and apologise.
At the just-concluded Dharam Sansad in Hardwar, Sadhvi Annapurna aka Pooja Shakun Pandey, a mahamandleshwar of the Niranjani Akhara and general secretary of the Hindu Mahasabha also gave a call to arms and incitement to genocide.
Without any ambiguity, she gave a direct call for the mass murder of Muslims.
“Nothing is possible without weapons. If you want to eliminate their population then kill them. Be ready to kill and be ready to go to jail. Even if 100 of us are ready to kill 20 lakhs of them (Muslims), then we will be victorious, and go to jail… Like [Nathuram] Godse, I am ready to be maligned, but I will pick up arms to defend my Hindutva from every demon who is a threat to my religion,” she said.
In an interview to a YouTube channel called ‘Vishalviews’ shot at the Dharma Sansad, she said, “Today is the time when women need to take swords in one hand along with belans in the other. I request my mothers to not become the weakness of their sons but instead become their strength. Tell them if adharma is happening anywhere I will come with you to cut them up. There won’t be any cases but only a little inconvenience for some days; call us, we will be there with you.”
When asked about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s critical reaction in 2019 to Sadhvi Pragya’s endorsement of Gandhi’s assassin Godse, she said that Modi has to compromise because of the secular constitution. But she said it was “Modi and others like Modi” who in the past had explained what Godse and Gandhi were all about.
Pandey is a prominent leader of the Hindu Mahasabha and is often in headlines for hate speech against Muslims. Just recently, she made headlines for her comments against Modi after he announced that the Union government will repeal the three farm laws in the wake of a year-long protest by the farmers at the borders of Delhi. Pandey had Modi’s portrait from the Aligarh office of the Hindu Mahasabha removed, saying “Jiski ek baat nahi, uska ek baap nahi.”
In April 2020, a criminal case was filed against Pandey for promoting enmity between different groups on religious grounds and issuing a statement conducive to public mischief after a video in which she purportedly made provocative comments against Tablighi Jamaat members went viral. Later, she was briefly arrested. In March 2021, after a minor Muslim boy was beaten up by Hindutva activist Shringi Yadav for entering a temple in Dasna, Pooja Shakun demanded that other temples put up boards prohibiting the entry of Muslims, like the one in Dasna.
In May 2019, Pooja Shakun distributed knives to minor girls on Savarkar Jayanti. In January 2019, Pandey shot at an effigy of Mahatma Gandhi and raised slogans in support of Godse. She later set the effigy on fire. While the BJP dismissed its association with Pandey, she regularly interacts with leaders of the party like BJP MP Sadhvi Pragya and the Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan. Despite her open call to murder Muslims on multiple occasions, the police in UP is yet to act against Pandey.
A third religious leader, Swami Anandswaroop, whose hate speeches and incitement to violence have been documented by The Wire in the past, was also seen making genocidal statements.
“The decision of this Dharma Sansad would be a word of God and the government will have to listen to it,” he said. “If it won’t, then we would wage a war that would be more gruesome than the revolt of 1857.”
He went on to explain through personal examples how Hindus should deal with Muslim street vendors. “The street in which I live, every morning I used to spot a Mullah [derogatory word for a Muslim] with a big beard and nowadays they keep a saffron beard. This is Haridwar, Maharaj. There is no Muslim buyer here, so throw him out,” he said.
Swami Anandswaroop had earlier also expressed support for Ajendra Ajay’s campaign against the so-called ‘land jihad’ in Uttarakhand. Earlier this year, he had demanded non-Hindus should be banned from entering Uttarakhand. “If the entry of non-Hindus is not banned, then Hindu priests will take to the streets,” the far-right priest had said in a video posted on his Facebook account.
“Members of the Muslim community are creating a ruckus here, spreading non-vegetarianism, throwing meat and cow meat in the Ganga to defile it (sic). If we don’t take note, then it will become Kashmir. There should be one state for Hindus at least. If a title suit on the lines of Ayodhya would be fought for Uttarakhand, Hindus will win it,” he said.
When The Wire asked if he agreed with the views of Anandswaroop that non-Hindus should be banned from possessing land in Uttarakhand, BJP MLA Ajendra Ajay, who supported the unfounded allegations of ‘land jihad’, replied, “I agree with him to a great extent. There are two reasons. First, it’s a question of national security since we are a border state. Second, Uttarakhand is sacred to Hindus and why can’t we have exclusive holy sites for Hindus?”
Swami Anandswaroop made headlines in January 2021 when he addressed a ‘Hindu Panchayat’ in Meerut, explaining the rationale of these campaigns in clear terms.
“My argument is that if you [Muslims] want to remain associated with us, you should first stop reading the Quran and stop offering namaz,” he had said at the event. Then he had offered a ‘solution’ to Hindus: “You decide that you will not buy anything from a Muslim. If you destroy them socially, politically and economically, they will begin converting to Hinduism from Islam,” he had said.