Video Editor: Sandeep Suman
Archbishop of Bengaluru Peter Machado took a biblical reference to compare the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Karnataka to King Herod, who is believed to have persecuted Jesus during the time of his birth. The BJP government in Karnataka passed the state's anti-conversion bill or Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill-2021 on 23 December 2021.
Speaking to The Quint, Machado said that the community is hurt and is faced with a challenge because the government of Karnataka, like King Herod, does not want Christians to have "good times" even during Christmas. Herod, according to the Bible, had ordered the murder of all newborns as he did not want Jesus to live.
“Christmas is a time which is surely joyful but the first Christmas was also under these challenging circumstances. When Jesus had to go from one place to another because there was another foolish ruler (King Herod) who wanted to take a census of the people. Therefore, Joseph and Mary who was pregnant was asked to travel to another place. I think this government is also like the government of those days, not wanting us to have good times."Peter Machado, Archbishop of Bengaluru
The community, however, will face the challenge, the archbishop added. "We take it with hope. We take it with love. We wish the people these joys in spite of our sufferings, in spite of our disappointments.”
'Bill Specifically Targeted at Christians'
The archbishop said that the bill will affect Christians the most. "We say it is specifically targeted at the Christians because we have seen in north India, especially in the states where similar laws are passed, that the target has only been the Christians,” Machado said.
The archbishop added that even before the Karnataka Legislative Assembly passed the bill, attacks against Christians had become rampant in Karnataka.
According to a People's Union of Civil Liberties report, there have been 39 attacks on churches and Christians in the state from January to December 2021.
"I am sad to say this morning (23 December) itself in Chikkballapur, one of the places where a statue of one of our saints was kept, was stoned. The statue was broken. There is a police case that is going on,” the archbishop said.
'Is Being Christian a Crime?'
The bill and the church surveys which preceded it have given the impression that Christianity is an "inimical religion", Machado said.
“First of all, for anyone to contemplate becoming a Christian is like a criminal activity. The person is not only discouraged, he will be hounded. He will be asked too many questions. It is a total disregard for our sentiments to say that Christianity is an inimical religion. An inimical philosophy.”Peter Machado, Archbishop of Bengaluru
The archbishop further maintained that the bill is unconstitutional. "What does the Constitution say? If there is real intension to convert, to change the religion, there are provisions. By making it so difficult, we are criminalising conversion."
Further, provisions of the bill can be misused and the bill makes religious conversion a difficult process, he added.
'Provisions of the Bill Open to Misinterpretation'
The archbishop said that the bill's clause on forced conversions can be misinterpreted. "It is said force can be either direct or indirect. What do you mean by indirect? Tomorrow in an interview with you, if I ask from where have you come, can it be considered indirect inducement," he asked.
Machado said charity offered by the church can be considered "inducement" under the bill.
"It is Christmas time we have meals for the poor. Several poor people come for this. Will this be misconstrued as an invitation to become Christians? In our schools, we give scholarships and concessions to the poor. In some of our institutions we even have a percentage (of seats) reserves for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Perhaps in the future we won’t be able to do it very freely because we would have to answer so many questions."Peter Machado, Archbishop of Bengaluru
The bill has a hidden agenda as it does not want the church to work for the poor and the marginalised, the archbishop rued. The government does not want the church to work for the poor the Dalits and the Adivasis, Machado accused.
Besides, the bill violates the privacy of people who want to convert, he pointed out:
“There is no privacy at all. A person who is going to get married (in case of conversion) will have to fill up the form, give it to the magistrate. And the magistrate will send it to the police and the police have to put it on the notice board with all the details of the persons. Anyone reading the notice board can also prepare themselves if it is an inter-caste marriage and go and trouble them."
'Christians Still Hopeful'
However, the Christians are still hopeful, he said, adding that fundamentalist groups alone have influenced the government. Majority of the people in the country are aware of the "good work" that Christians do, he said.
“We trust in God much more than we trust in man. We cannot trust political parties now. We can’t trust the government now, but we trust in God.”Peter Machado, Archbishop of Bengaluru
The community and its institutions will continue to be of service to people despite the challenging circumstances, the archbishop concluded.