The proposal by the Backward and Minority Welfare Department of Karnataka to conduct a survey of the Christian missionaries and their places of worship has been met with sharp criticism from political parties and strong resistance by the minority community in the state. Following widespread anger over the issue, the state government is said to have taken its foot of the pedal and is in no rush to complete the survey.
Speaking to News9, the Archbishop of Bengaluru Dr Peter Machado vehemently opposed the Karnataka government’s decision to conduct a survey on churches in the state and objected to the proposed anti-conversion law.
Here are edited excerpts from the interaction.
Why do you feel such a decision was taken by the Karnataka government?
It is not right on the part of the government. The government has all the information about our churches and religious activities, so a survey was not required. It is arbitrary and discriminatory. This is my grouse with the government. It seems like the Christian community is being targeted with the Anti-conversion law. If the survey was going to be conducted on all religions, then there wouldn’t be a problem. The survey coming in the backdrop of the law that is going to be passed will not be helpful.
Do you feel such a survey will have far reaching consequences?
This survey will not help the government or us. Vigilante groups can use these lists to target and harass us. One such group in Hubballi openly occupied a Christian place of worship and wanted to sing bhajans and hymns. This is not a good sign and the government should not encourage people to take law into their own hands.
Are there large scale ‘forced’ conversions taking place in Karnataka as alleged by BJP MLA Goolihatti Shekhar?
No conversion should take place by force or inducement. If Goolihatti Shekhar has proof of forced or deceitful conversion, then action should be taken. It is not right to label a community based on stray incidents. With respect to Goolihatti Shekhar’s mother’s case, I don’t believe that in a place like Karnataka, someone can go and threaten an MLA’s mother or provide incentives to coerce her. If this can happen with an MLA’s mother, then I am scared for the general public. I don’t think his stories can be taken seriously.
Do you think the Karnataka government has succumbed to pressure by a few fundamentalist groups?
I have met Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, he is a good man. Like Bommai, I also come from Hubballi-Dharwad region and I know his good works. He is a good administrator, but it looks like he has succumbed to the pressure of certain groups and decided to introduce the anti-conversion bill. Just because it has been introduced in other states, doesn’t mean it should be done in Karnataka and especially Bengaluru which has evolved as a global cosmopolitan city. On one hand you are opening Bengaluru and Karnataka to the west by allowing them to establish factories and corporations, but on the other you are giving a wrong impression to them by rejecting their religion and culture, but want only their industry. Is this the message you want to send, that we are mono-culture and mono religion? There are several people in the IT field who have come here from abroad. The CM has to think about these matters because it will surely bring a bad name to Karnataka.
What do you have to say about allegations of forced conversions and illegal funding?
I encourage the government to take action in case of forced conversions. But it is wrong to brand a whole community because of stray incidents. We follow the government rules in terms of funding and have kept things transparent. The government has to meet us halfway. There are allegations that there are many unauthorised churches. It is necessary to understand that the bureaucracy is such that it is not easy to build a church. I have seen cases where even after waiting for several years, permission hasn’t been granted. I wish the process would be regularised.
Do you feel Christian priests and nuns could be targeted because of the survey and the anti-conversion bill? What did the CM say when you raised the issue?
We spoke to CM Bommai and agreed to cooperate with regard to the probe on forced conversions. I have submitted my representation to the government and made it clear that this survey is discriminatory. I am confident he will understand our situation and help us live in peace.