At 5:45 a.m., Thursday, December 23, Father Joseph Anthony Daniel was awakened by a phone call. The 152-year-old Saint-Joseph church in Soosaipalya parish in Karnataka (southern India) was vandalized overnight. « The statue of Saint Anthony and that of the little Jesus he held in his arms were beheaded by a stone throw », describes the priest, who immediately went to the police station to file a complaint. “The whole village is in shock. We are a peaceful Catholic parish of 78 families, I do not understand the motivations of the vandals on Christmas Eve ”, he wonders.
This attack is part of a wave of violence against the Christian minority in India. In the first ten months of the year, more than 300 attacks on Christians and their places of worship were carried out by Hindu extremists across the country, according to a count by several human rights organizations.
Between January and November, in Karnataka alone, thirty-nine incidents targeting Christians were recorded by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), a non-governmental organization. In its report, published on December 14 and entitled « Criminalizing the practice of the faith », PUCL emphasizes that the perpetrators of all these attacks are members of Hindu extremist organizations, such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a paramilitary organization and matrix ideology of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
« Conversions have become a crime »
In Karnataka, this upsurge in violence against Christians is unfolding against the backdrop of accusations of forced conversions. The BJP, in power in this state, affirms that conversions to Christianity are rampant there and the local authorities even ordered, at the end of October, a census of all the churches and priests who officiate there. The chief executive, Basavaraj Bommai, did not hesitate to speak of slow « Religious invasion ». “The idea of mass conversions is a myth; moreover, the percentage of Christians in the Indian population continues to decrease ”, underlines Peter Machado, Archbishop of Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka, where Christians represent less than 2% of the population. Nationally, they are only 2.3%, in an 80% Hindu India.
On the day St. Joseph’s Church in Soosaipalya was vandalized, Karnataka passed a controversial anti-conversion law. The latter imposes drastic restrictions on conversions and interfaith marriages. The penalties provided for can go up to ten years in prison. « Conversions have become a crime, it is an attack on religious freedom but also on the right to privacy », regrets Peter Machado. The Christian community also fears that this law will galvanize self-proclaimed militias and encourage further violence.
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