Christian groups in Belagavi City in Karnataka, India, were told by police to avoid meetings and gatherings for prayer until the end of the Winter Session. Belagavi will be hosting the Karnataka legislative session scheduled for December 13 to 24. A controversial anti-conversion bill will be discussed during the session, according to the police.
Pastor Thomas, speaking to a local news outlet, The News Minute (TNM), said the police notified him to avoid gathering for prayers because right-wing groups might attack them. “Will not be able to give them protection,” the Belagavi police said.
Pastor Thomas and other non-Catholic religious leaders in Karnataka are alarmed by the increasing rate of harassment and attacks from militant Hindutva groups in their area.
Earlier this month, Pastor Lema Cherian was locked inside the building where they gather for Sunday services. According to police reports, Sri Rama Sene, a right-wing Hindutva group active in Karnataka, accused Pastor Cherian of performing forced conversions. Members of the Sri Rama Sene group alleged that more than 200 individuals are gathered every Sunday and are forcibly baptized in Christianity.
According to the police, “Sunday prayers are a routine occurrence” in Pastor Cherian’s church.
Pastor Thomas said they are concerned with the police’s inability to protect Christians. He said Christians are the subject of animosity in Belagavi and have suffered increasing attacks from militant Hindutva groups.
TNM reported that more than 25 pastors in the Belagavi city and nearby areas were approached by the police and were asked not to gather for prayers and to “avoid meetings until the end of the Winter Session of the Karnataka Assembly.”
Pastor Benny Paul Saturi of the Full Gospel Church said he was also notified not to hold Sunday services. The police told Saturi that they “do not know when these right-wing groups will come and create problems for you.” Many of the pastors resorted to live streaming their services.
Aside from notifying pastors, the police also told building owners not to allow these congregations to gather. TNM reported that most of the Christian communities in Belagavi do not own their churches. The majority of these congregations rent buildings for their services.
Jotiba Jadhav, a building-owner in Belagavi, disagrees with what the police are doing. “Instead of sorting out the issues and giving protection to the halls, they asked owners not to rent out to pastors,” he said.
On November 24, bishops and Christian leaders submitted a memorandum to the Belagavi Police Commissioner. “Instead of giving protection to Christians, we are asked to stop all our activities,” the memo said. “These prayer halls are within the framework of the Constitution.” the leaders argued.
According to TNM, right-wing groups are poised to force the Karnataka Assembly to create the anti-conversion bill. For the past few months, these right-wing groups have been conducting demonstrations and even resorting to violent rallies to try and force Karnataka to pass the bill.