Uneasiness shrouds Christian community in Karnataka after recent attacks

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The recent incident of a man barging into a church with a machete in his hand and the burning of some Christian religious books by right-wing groups have intensified fears and sense of insecurity among Christians in Karnataka, members of the community said.

The police have clarified that the man was drunk, and that the Bible was not burnt, but there is a clear nervousness among Christians in the city.

Father Francis D’Souza, parish priest of St Joseph in Belagavi’s Bauxite Road, was leaving the premises at around 2 pm, to return to his house adjacent to the church, on Saturday when he saw a man approaching him with a machete.

In a video of the incident that went viral on social media, the man is seen following and chasing the priest for some time before fleeing the spot.

“The church has been here for the past 30 years and I have been here for the last five years but it is for the first time that an incident like this has taken place,” said Father D’Souza.

“I am still scared and the situation here continues to remain tense,” he added.

Police from APMC station, about 3 km away from the church, were informed about the incident following which the accused, later identified as Mohammed Nizam Phulwale, was nabbed . He was in an inebriated state and entered the church “without motive”, police said. “He doesn’t even remember what he did and there was no motive behind the attack,” a police official from APMC station said, seeking anonymity.

However, speculation is abuzz that the accused was provoked by some anti-social elements .

The incident prompted the church to step up security measures such as fixing all dysfunctional CCTVs in the premises.

On the same day, members of right-ring groups set ablaze Christian religious books alleging religious conversion by the church in Srinivaspur town of Kolar district, about 65 km from Bengaluru. Police later clarified that the Bible, the holy book of the Christians, was not among the items that were set on fire by the right-wing members.

If Christians are worried it’s because of a November incident when members of the Bajrang Dal barged into a prayer hall and stopping a service midway in Hassan district, and a September one in Udupi where right-wing allegedly attacked devotees while a prayer meeting was underway in a hall.

A fact finding report by several civil society organisations earlier this month claimed that Karnataka was witnessing one of the highest incidents of attack against Christians.

The report by United Christian Forum (UCF), Association for Protection of Civil Rights (APCR), and United Against Hate also claimed that Karnataka ranks third among states with the most number of attacks on the community and their places of worship in India.

The spate of attacks on Christians and churches also come at a time the Basavaraj Bommai-led government is determined to pass an anti-conversion bill during the winter session of the state legislature in Belagavi which commenced on Monday.

On Sunday, chief minister Bommai hinted that the draft of the anti-conversion bill would be approved by the state cabinet and it may be introduced in the session.

Claiming that religious conversion was not good for the society, Bommai said the downtrodden people should not succumb to it.

The chief minister, however, clarified that people of all religious communities need not panic with respect to the anti-conversion law. “Hindus, Christians, Muslims and Sikhs are the faiths recognised by the Constitution and there is no problem for people to pray or follow their respective religions. However, there is no scope for misusing someone’s poverty to lure them to change their faith,” he said.

Pastor Thomas Johnson said the proposed bill and attacks were part of the “ tactics” of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

“First it was Hindu-Muslim and now it is Hindu-Christian. They are injecting poison. I have never seen such anti-Christian sentiments in the state,” the pastor said while referring to attacks on minority communities.

Christians have called for a hunger strike in Belagavi on December 17 to highlight the issues faced by the community.

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