By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
(Worthy News) - Hindu militants threatened more attacks against a Christian congregation in India’s southern state of Karnataka if it continues services ahead of expected “anti-conversion” legislation.
Some 15 members of the Hindu militant Bajrang Dal group reportedly raided the church in Belur in Hassan district on Sunday, November 28, while more than 40 Christians were praying.
Attackers claimed that forced religious conversions took place, charges denied by believers, Worthy News learned. Christians described those involved in the violence as observing Hindutva, India’s primary form of Hindu nationalism.
Raghu Sakaleshpura, the regional coordinator of Bajrang Dal, reportedly claimed that one of their activists had been “invited” to the prayer meeting.
The church was “luring people to convert to Christianity through various means,” Sakaleshpura added in published remarks.
He warned authorities that “if the administration allows prayer next week, we will attack.”
Pastor Suresh Paul denied the allegations. “We were praying inside, nothing else,” he said in comments shared with Worthy News.
He added that freedom of religion is “a right guaranteed under the constitution” of India, a mainly Hindu nation.
The pastor said it was “the strategy of Hindutva radicals to disrupt worship services” by sending members to attend and then claiming they were pressured to convert to Christianity.
Last week’s attack came weeks after militants from the Hindutva nationalist group Sri Ram Sena locked a pastor and some 30 Christians in a prayer hall, Worthy News learned.
The November 7 violence in Belagavi district was sparked by Hindu nationalists who “falsely” claimed “illegal conversions were being conducted,” well-informed Christians said.
It comes amid heightened tensions about plans by Karnataka’s Hindu government to introduce a new anti-conversion law this month.
The legislation was to be discussed during the winter session of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly, the state’s parliament, starting December 13.
If such a law is passed, Karnataka would be the tenth Indian state to criminalize “conversions carried out through force, fraud or allurement.”
In practice, critics say, the legislation will ban evangelism and other Christian services and open the doors for more Hindu attacks against churches and believers.
The legislation comes despite reports that a government official investigating alleged forced conversions to Christianity in Karnataka found no evidence to support such allegations.
The administrative officer, Y Thippeswamy, responsible for the Chitradurga district, was ordered to inquire about Hindu complaints about forced conversions to Christianity in October.
His investigation was launched a month after the state’s chief minister Basavaraj Bommai confirmed plans to introduce the new anti-conversion law.
The state government ordered a detailed investigation into all churches, Christian leaders, and missionaries in Karnataka, a move condemned by the Christian community.
Thippeswamy ordered a survey in two villages to verify the allegations, according to Christians familiar with the situation.
Officials reportedly spoke to 34 families in Maruthi Nagar and twelve families in Bhovihatti, but no evidence was found of coercion to convert to Christianity.
“Since the families claimed they had wilfully converted to Christianity, we decided to call off our survey,” said Thippeswamy in remarks.
He reportedly noted that the families who voluntarily accepted the Christian faith were “in a much better place now and believe the new faith is the reason for their wellbeing.”
“When we asked about reports of some people luring them to accept Christianity, the families rubbished those reports,” Thippeswamy said.
Besides, in Karnataka, Christians across several Indian states have complained about “unfounded allegations” of carrying out forced conversions.
Pastors in India’s Madhya Pradesh state have reportedly already begun registering the names of Christians attending church services. They use the documents to protect themselves against false allegations of illegal religious conversions, Christians said.