Karnataka’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government had not just ordered a ‘survey’ of churches and priests in the state, but also ordered a probe on ordinary Christians of at least one district, The Quint has gathered.
On 4 October 2021, the Tehsildar of Hosadurga taluk of Chitradurga district issued an order asking revenue officials to do a “door-to-door” inspection to find “Hindus who have converted to Christianity”.
The order, a copy of which The Quint has accessed, says that this deeply intrusive check was sanctioned by the district collector of Chitradurga, in Central Karnataka.
That is, at least in Chitradurga district, the collector had chosen to probe individual homes to find “converts from Hinduism to Christianity”.
The tehsildar's order is at least the third government ordered 'survey' or probe, on Karnataka's Christian community, to come to light. The first was a ‘survey’ of churches ordered by the Minorities welfare department and the second, an intelligence probe ordered by the state.
It should be noted that, unlike in the other snoops, the tehsildar's order had brought under the scanner not just 'illegal' conversions but all religious conversions.
Is this a prelude to the anti-conversion bill which the state government is planning to table in the winter session of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly scheduled to begin on 13 December?
'Based on WhatsApp and Facebook News,' Says Tehsildar’s Order
The probe into private homes, ordered by the tehsildar, seems to have been triggered by “WhatsApp and Facebook messages” and "concerns raised" by the BJP sitting MLA in the constituency, Gulihatti Shekhar. The order states that the MLA “believes Christian missionaries throughout the taluk are luring Hindus and converting them to Christianity”.
It further states, “the news which is being propagated through Whatsapp and Facebook about the extent of conversions in some villages... should be checked”.
The order also lists four villages in the taluk where alleged religious conversions are happening rampantly. The names of these villages are being withheld by The Quint, to prevent undue attention on them.
The order further asks sub-divisional revenue officials to submit a report on conversions and more ominously, asks them to "initiate action". It does not specify the nature of action which is to be taken.
The key request though, is for a “list of converted Hindus” in the taluk through a "door-to-door" check.
The tehsildar even warns subordinate officials, “This matter is of utter importance. There should be no negligence”. The probe must be conducted “cautiously”, the order specifies. In a stern reminder, the order states that officials who do not comply will be reported to the district collector. Disciplinary action will be taken against such “errant” officers, the order states.
'Snooping on Christians Unconstitutional'
Essentially, based on rumours, the Chitradurga district collector ordered a probe on people practicing Christianity to enumerate those who have converted from Hinduism.
This is in complete violation of Article 25 of the Constitution that guarantees freedom to choose one’s own religion and practice and propagate the religion of one’s choice.
According to two legal experts The Quint contacted, the order, which specifically asks for door-to-door checks, even violates the fundamental right to privacy of individual believers.
"This is not just about freedom of religion. Ordering 'surveys' to look at homes and personal details violates the right to privacy. Keeping a check on religious choice, which is a private choice, is also violation of the right to privacy," a legal expert said, on condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, why are there multiple checks on Christians in the state, if the government already has proof of ‘illegal’ conversions? Or, is the anti-conversion law being promulgated without proof of criminal activity?
As of now, the government does not seem have any solid proof of ‘illegal’ conversions, a chronology of probes, ordered by different government agencies, indicates.
No Proof, Yet Three Probes on Churches, Christians
On 7 July 2021, the minorities department of the Karnataka government ordered a ‘survey’ into churches across the state. In this exercise, district collectors were asked to find details of individual churches, their property details and the personal details of Christian priests and pastors.
While this probe was underway, on 21 September the Karnataka Home Minister Araga Janendra announced in the state Assembly that the government was planning to introduce a new law to curb religious conversions. This was in response to allegations of ‘illegal and forceful’ conversions to Christianity, the minister said.
While such allegations were indeed raised by the BJP and Janata Dal (Secular) MLAs, no proof of such ‘illegal’ conversions were tabled in the House.
Three days after Janendra’s statement, on 24 September, the BJP MLA from Hosadurga constituency, Gulihatti Shekhar raised the conversion bogey in the state Assembly.
The MLA claimed rampant conversions to Christianity in his constituency. He also claimed Christian preachers had even converted his mother. He cited 36 ‘illegal’ religious conversions which had allegedly happened across the state. No proof to substantiate the statement was offered in the House.
Hosadurga tehsildar’s order, which came two weeks after the MLA’s statement, also indicates that the district authorities had not verified the rumours surrounding ‘illegal’ conversions.
If the MLA and the collector had proof of forceful conversions, why would the tehsildar issue fresh orders asking for probe?
The tehsildar’s order dated 4 October was the second in the series of probes on churches and Christians in the state.
Later, in furtherance of the Minorities welfare department's 'survey', a Legislative Committee on Minorities and Backward Classes ordered a probe into 'legal' and 'illegal' churches in the state. Gulihatti Shekhar, a member of the committee, made this announcement on 15 October.
A third probe was ordered on 16 October by the Intelligence wing of the state government that comes directly under Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai.
The Quint had reported on 23 October that the Additional Director General of Police, Intelligence ordered a snoop on churches and preachers of Christianity. The probe in essence was aimed at classifying the churches as “authorised and unauthorised”.
As per The Quint’s investigation, this probe too has not yielded results as the state police wing has been maintaining that there are no ‘illegal’ churches in their jurisdictions. An unverified intelligence report, however, states that there are 236 such illegal structures in the state.
Meanwhile, church authorities, across Christian denominations, have been protesting the probes ordered on them.