Bengaluru: In a complaint to the Belagavi police, a Dalit woman in Karnataka has accused vigilantes of assaulting her and her family members over ‘conversion’. The incident on 29 December is the latest in a series of alleged attacks on Christian prayer meetings and schools in Karnataka after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the state tabled a bill to prevent illegal religious conversions.
While the Christian community has been alleging that attacks on its members and churches have increased ever since the government first mooted the bill in September, the recent spate of incidents have done little to shake off fears of the bill emboldening vigilantes.
On 29 December, a luncheon prayer meeting organised at the residence of Pastor Akshaykumar Karaganvi, a converted Dalit Christian, at Ghataprabha of Belagavi district was disrupted by a group of men claiming to be members of Hindutva groups.
In her complaint, Kavita Karaganvi, wife of Akshaykumar, alleged that the Hindutva men accused her husband of illegally converting people to Christianity and then assaulted five people, including three women. She added that the group used casteist slurs, pulled at one of the women’s clothes and even stole a gold chain.
Following the complaint, the local police registered an FIR against seven persons under Indian Penal Code (IPC) sections of unlawful assembly, rioting, wrongful restraint, outraging the modesty of woman, trespassing and criminal intimidation, among others. Sections of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, have also been invoked.
Speaking to ThePrint, Belagavi Superintendent of Police Laxman Nimbargi said there was a complaint as well as a counter-complaint and investigation was underway. He added that facts of the case are being ascertained. No arrests have been made in the case so far.
‘Exaggerated the incident’
The Dalit family in Belagavi, who have embraced Christianity, alleged that one of the women suffered scalding during the scuffle and one man, Sudhakar Vyapari, has sustained grievous injuries due to the assault.
Meanwhile, the Hindutva workers have accused the Dalit family of attempt to murder.
Sources from the local police station where the cases have been filed alleged that both parties have exaggerated the incident.
“There was no physical fight. Hindutva activists disrupted a prayer meet and an argument ensued but before it went out of control, the police intervened. It was a gathering of largely converted Christian Dalit family members and only one person was a Hindu,” the source said.
Other attacks in Karnataka since Christmas
On 25 December, Christmas celebrations at a private school in Bagalkot district of Karnataka were stalled by Hindutva outfit members. Following the ruckus over the accusation of illegal conversion of students, the block education officer (BEO) ordered closure of the school.
“There is no evidence of conversion but meat was served in the event and I ordered closure to ensure peace,” BEO Mahesh Bellinavar reportedly told reporters, adding that he had later “allowed” the school to reopen.
Just a day before this incident, Christmas celebrations at a school in Mandya were disrupted with Hindutva activists accusing the nuns at the school of converting students.
In a video that went viral on New Year’s Eve, women from Tumakuru district were seen fighting off Hindutva outfit members for barging into a prayer meet and accusing the women of not being “Hindu-like”. A Dalit family was hosting the prayer meet when members of Bajrang Dal disrupted the meet and alleged religious conversion.
“I will even remove my mangal sutra and pray. Who are you to ask me,” a woman is seen in the video, questioning the Hindutva workers.
In this case too, there were complaints and counter-complaints.
Special section not needed to reign vigilantes, minister says, opposition hits out
Speaking to ThePrint, Karnataka’s Home Minister Araga Jnanendra said that action would be taken against anyone disrupting prayer meetings of other religions. However, he added that there is no need for legal provision in the anti-conversion bill to deal with this vigilantism as existing punitive measures were enough.
“Yes, the new bill is called the Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill but there is no need to add a section to punish those who disrupt prayer meetings or other religions in this bill. There are already IPC sections like 296 and 295 to address that,” Jnanendra said.
He added that the police are taking suo moto action in such cases to deter vigilantism.
However, opposition leaders questioned this approach, noting that laws already exist to prevent illegal conversion too.
“There are also laws that already prevent illegal conversion, so what is the need for this bill then,” said Congress MLA U.T. Khader. “This bill has emboldened vigilantes to harass common citizens practicing their faith.”
(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)