After Muslims, and the wave of lynching and killings involving them, it is now the turn of Christians in India to be traumatised by a group of fringe Hindutva activists. The last few months have witnessed a spate of attacks on Christians and Christian institutions, including a school, in Karnataka, where saffron outfits are whipping up hysteria over “forced conversions” during and after passing of the anti-conversion Bill by the Karnataka Assembly.

On November 19, the PUCL (People’s Union of Civil Liberties), a human rights body, said that till November, Karnataka had recorded in 2021, 39 incidents of attacks on Christian bodies. It said this was related to the frenzy over the Bill, which was being pushed by the BJP-led Karnataka government.

On December 23, the Bill was passed. Two days later, on Christmas day, a saffron outfit called the Hindu Para Sanghatana, barged into a shed in Ilkal in Bagalkot district of Karnataka, where Christmas celebrations were underway, and alleged that forced religious conversion were happening there.

The next day, and after an “inspection and investigation” at lightning speed, a school for girls, the St Paul’s Higher Primary School, located on the same premises, was shut down. The order read: “It is found that some members of the school management are converting students and parents to Christianity”, accused the management of celebrating Christmas in “violation of norms” and serving meat in classrooms!

The Bill, which was passed by the Assembly on December 23 by a voice vote, lists all kinds of allurements such as “gifts, gratification easy money or material benefit of any kind” and also “force” and “undue influence” as illegal, making the inducers liable for prosecution for forceful conversions.

With such sweeping, all-inclusive generalisations, it is easy for any loony or fringe element to make a charge of “unlawful, forceful” conversion. So the the ridiculous complaint from this sangathan that the school management had “invited students and parents to the school on Christmas day and offered them meat, wine and a Kannada translation of the Bible”, was sufficient for the government to shut down the school. It did so with the sweeping charge that the management had brought “public disgrace” to the institution.

Interestingly, it was later found that the school wasn’t even being run by an all-Christian committee. Of the 10 managing partners of the school, six are Hindus and the rest Christian. Also the school is not run by a church or Christian missionaries but by private individuals, who had taken over the school from a Christian pastor in 2007. An embarrassed State government later withdrew its order.

Three months ago, on October 3, a small church in Roorkee in Uttarakhand was attacked by a mob of around 200 right-wing activists, and according to Sadhana Portor running the small church, despite an FIR naming several persons being filed within hours, no arrests have been made. The marauders pulled down the cross, broke it into pieces and attacked the worshippers. She said that many of the attackers were her neighbours, and three were BJP members.

Growing attacks

In the first week of December, the St Joseph School was attacked and vandalised by Bajrang Dal activists and local residents in Ganj Basoda town, about 110 km from Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. The allegation was that according to social media reports, eight students in the school were converted to Christianity. As Christian religious leaders protested and lodged police complaints, arrests were made, declared the State’s Home minister. He however added, that “as directed by CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan, we are identifying foreign-funded NGOs which are indulging in religious conversion, and action will be initiated against them.”

Even poor Santa Claus was not spared… on Christmas eve, Santa’s effigies were burnt in Agra on the charge that the mythical figure was a deliberate strategy created by Christian missionaries to convert people. Apparently one-odd Santa was even beaten up!

BJP MP Tejaswi Surya’s comment, withdrawn later, on bringing about “large-scale reconversion” to Hinduism, and the incendiary speeches made in ‘hate mahapanchayat” and other events in Haryana have been widely reported and discussed threadbare. The genocide of Muslims recommended during a “dharam sansad” in Haridwar in December 17, went viral. Said an organiser, Swami Prabodhanand from the Hindu Raksha Sena, “Just like Myanmar, the police, the army and every Hindu must pick up arms and organise a cleansing of Muslims. We have no other choice.”

At the dawn of a new year, leaders who matter in this country need some serious introspection. Were we, in our history as a people, ever so petty, so malicious and filled with so much hatred? If not, what have we become and why? And is this the India that they… we… want to leave behind for our children, grandchildren?