Karnataka BJP MLA Goolihatti Shekhar, while clarifying on a survey of ‘illegal churches’ ordered by a House committee, said the objective behind the survey is to check the authorisation of the churches and to also push for a law to deal with forced conversions.
The legislative committee on Backward Classes and Minorities Welfare in Karnataka yesterday ordered a survey of authorised and unauthorised churches and their priests, and to register cases where complaints arose regarding forcible religious conversion.
Shekhar, a member of the committee, recalled his family’s experience with ‘forced conversion’ in an exclusive conversation with CNN-News18 and addressed various queries on the survey.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
Q) What is the survey about?
My mother had been converted to Christianity on the promise of a cure for her health problems. But she has now been repatriated back to her old faith. But in this town (Hosadurga) alone, there are at last three to four illegal churches indulging in ‘forced conversions’. So, officials of the Home and Revenue Department have been tasked with putting together data on the exact number of churches. The committee will then make its recommendations to the state government on what legislation is needed to curb this.
When we talk about our Muslim brothers, we take up issues about that community – Shaadi mahals, wakf property, etc. – and review them. Similarly, we will check what grants have been provided to Christians. Two months back, we started collecting data, statistics about every community, what grants are their rights, because their welfare is crucial for us.
So, we talked about how many churches are there and how many Masjids are there, and we are collecting data on that. So, in that context, we asked how many churches are there in all, in the last two months. Every district has officers – for minority directorate, secretary, etc., headed by the district commissioner. When we asked them, they said there are 1,790 churches in Karnataka.
When they said there were 1,790 churches, at that time, our minority Department officials told us one thing – when we visited a few churches, they sent us back rudely, without cooperating. Thus, we wanted correct statistics and information.
Since the Home, Law, Minority, and Revenue Department officials had come for the meeting, we told them we needed a comprehensive report on the number of churches in the state and to give us a report on that. Since some of the officials said they faced hostile situations while visiting some churches, and officers of the Home and revenue Department were present at that time, SP and District Commissioners must head this and give us a comprehensive report on the issue.
There is a feeling there are unauthorised churches in many places, where forced conversions are going on – in every street, there is a church, in homes there are unauthorised churches set up. These force people to convert by holding out different kinds of promises. There are many original Christians, who are Christians by birth, and we have asked mosques also for this information and want a reality status on this information.
Q) So you have asked for a survey on how many churches there are?
Not a survey; this is only a report. And yes, we give data on temples and various Hindu associations. This is also a part of that routine.
Q) Have you asked for a report on unauthorised temples, as well?
Our committee is about backward classes and minorities. We have asked for data on masjids and dargahs, as we have to give them money for development. Similarly, we have to give money to churches for their development as well.
Q) Do you feel conversions have gone up because of unauthorised churches?
Definitely, I gave one example of my mother, who had been converted. In my town Hosadurga, there was only one church I have seen since my birth. Now, there are nine churches. And from them, at least three to four churches are unauthorised. There is a Srirampura church, Bethel church, and there are Christians in that place. The padre (father) who is there, a person called Nagaraj heading a church, is a Veerashaiva Lingayat. He has been converted to Christianity and has become a priest, Now, wherever he goes, he forces people to convert, and many such cases are increasing in this state.
Q) Is the committee going to make recommendations on unauthorised churches, as well?
Forced conversions are those made by giving out some promises or some bribes – like they say your cancer will be cured or your kidney ailments will be cured. Some say your financial problems will be solved if you convert, and we will demand that action be taken against such forced conversions
Q) The Shimoga rural MLA Ashok Naik has said that those who have converted must give up the benefits they enjoy in the community or category they belonged to previously. What do you have to say about that?
That we will give as part of our recommendations. Our committee’s recommendations are being given to the Legislature. After that, what decision to take and what to implement will be left to the legislature and the government. The context in which Naik made the statement is that there are scheduled caste members who are taking the benefits of SCs and minorities, so they should receive benefits under one category.
Q) Do you also want to bring in a Bill on this issue?
Definitely. This is a widespread issue in our state and our country. Hindu dharma could be ruined in a few years, and the next generation could forget our culture. Our faith is Hindu, and our country is Hindustan, so we want to stress to the state government that brings in a Bill as soon as possible to stop forced conversions.
Q) Why did your mother convert?
I can send you some video footage; she was mentally disturbed as my father and my elder brother died in the same year in 2014. At the time, she was fed up, that she prayed a lot, and yet her husband and son were ‘not protected’. She also had some health problems. Someone took her to a church and said she would get better there.
If even my mother could be forced to convert, she doesn’t even know what the issue is. People have told me that they are told to convert for various reasons – if their children have not gotten married, they are told converting will help. Someone was told if he converts, his kidney problems will be cured. Yesterday, someone came to me and said he wants to return to our faith; everyday, there are so many people who call me to tell me they want to return to our faith. I have already brought my mother back to our faith. And many have realised now that they have been tricked into converting. For example, there was a person with a mental disability and he was told he would be cured if he goes to a church. So they have become like agents. To take people and convert them, and many say they are caught in this and that they cannot return to their original faith. So we want to stop forced conversions in our state and our country.Internet Explorer Channel Network