By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
(Worthy News) - Hindu militants “detained” Christians gathering for a worship service in India’s Karnataka state and accused the pastor of carrying out “forced conversions,” Christians confirmed Wednesday.
Sunday’s incident involved “militants from the Sri Ram Sena (SRS) ‘Hindutva’ movement who “stormed” a prayer hall in the state’s Maratha Colony in Belagavi district, Christians said.
The term ‘Hindutva’ describes the predominant form of Hindu nationalism in India, a mainly Hindu nation.
Militants claimed Pastor Lema Cherian was conducting “illegal conversions” as part of a Hindu crackdown on evangelism in India, said sources familiar with the case.
SRS leader Ravikumar Kokitkar reportedly criticized the government for “failing to curb such illegal activities.”
Cherian and at least 30 Christians remained in the hall before managing to call the police, Worthy News learned.
Police allegedly declined to make any arrests instead of sending the Christians home and placing some 20 officers around the building as a precautionary measure.
While nine Indian states have laws criminalizing conversions carried out through force, fraud, or allurement, Karnataka was not among them, advocacy group Barnabas Fund noted.
“However, the chief minister of Karnataka [Basavaraj Bommai] recently confirmed that the state government is planning to introduce a new anti-conversion law,” the group added.
In a statement, Pastor Cherian denied the “forced conversion” allegations.
“I was just leading a prayer with a group of interested people, like every Sunday,” he said.
“We have not forced anyone to come here; we are just practicing the rites of our religion,” the pastor explained.
“These are the usual false accusations,” added Sajan K. George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians advocacy group.
“The only people using force were the [Hindutva] nationalists who locked the pastor and the faithful in a room. Committing what is a crime under the Indian Penal Code,” George stressed.
George claimed “radical Hindutva” nationalist groups in Karnataka were encouraged by the state government’s proposal to introduce anti-conversion legislation.
Christians already expressed their opposition to such a law and an earlier attack on a church during protests in Hubballi city last month, Worthy News reported.