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Guwahati: Bishops of Northeast India expressed solidarity with Karnataka Christians in their opposition to a government move to introduce a bill to ban “forcible” religious conversion in the state. 

On October 16, Karnataka State Intelligence Department issued an order to officials to gather information about “authorised and unauthorised” churches in Karnataka. The order was issued by the Additional Director General of Police, State Intelligence Department to all Deputy Superintendents of Police (DySPs), Police Inspectors of all departments and DySPs of State Intelligence Bureau, and states that the location (district and taluk) of every church should be identified.

The action against one community, which accounts for less than 2% of the state’s population, has left Christian leaders disappointed across the Northeast. 

The President of the North East India Regional Bishops’ Council, Archbishop John Moolachira told EastMojo, “We stand with the Christians of Karnataka. Their concerns are our concerns. Anti-conversion bill which the state proposes is discriminatory against Christians and even against Hindu as the state believes that people will sell their souls for alleged allurements”. 

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Stating the move has malicious intent, the Archbishop said, “We do not object to the government’s move to find the details of institutions of different religions but let it be of every religion and not of Christians alone.” 

The Archbishop also reiterated the constitutional rights of every Indian citizen. “If after mature thought, if one plans to change his religion, let him have that freedom. Does not the Constitution allow that?” he said. 

The President of the Arunachal Pradesh Catholic Association, Taw Tebin, also expressed his opposition. Expressing dismay at the Karnataka government’s move, he said, “Nobody can forcefully convert anyone. It is not the Christians doing ‘forcible conversion’. It is the government that is doing the forcible conversion by imposing something that is not tenable to the Constitution and detrimental to the secular fabrics of our country.” 

Rejecting the proposal to introduce the anti-conversion bill, Allen Brooks, the Spokesperson for the United Christian Forum of North East India said, “What is happening in the country challenges the whole Constitution. I am Indian not because of my religion, but because of my birth and my Constitution. What is happening in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh these days is a way to dilute that constitutional the rights of everyone in the country.” 

Brooks also questioned the timing of such issues. “Why such issues are raked up before every crucial election? This is not because of the forcible conversion but because elections are around the corner. Such issues would divide the people on religious lines and they forget the real issues affecting the country. This is nothing but vote-bank politics at the cost of hurting the religious sentiment of the peace-loving Christian community in the country”, he said.

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“This is sad that Christians, who make a significant contribution to nation-building with education and health care services, are constantly under attack from government and fringe groups across the country. This move from the government will not only encourage lumpen elements but also disturb the peaceful atmosphere of our country. Such moves will win you votes, but at what cost?” asked Sister Euginia Laloo, the Social Communication Director of the Salesian Sisters in Meghalaya.  

Church leaders also expressed anguish at instances of attacks on Christian establishments across the country. A few days ago, a school in Satna, Madhya Pradesh, run by Christian missionaries was threatened with dire consequences if they did not install a statue of Goddess Saraswati on its premises. 

On Monday, the Karnataka HC issued notice to the state government following a petition filed by the People’s Union For Civil Liberties, challenging the communication issued by the State government dated July 7, seeking to collect information about churches in the state.

A division bench of Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi and Justice Sachin Shankar Magadum, however, refused to pass an interim order sought for staying the operation of the impugned letters and directing the respondents not to take any coercive action pursuant to or under the impugned communications. The bench said, “There is nothing on record to show such an urgency that an interim order is to be passed at this stage.”

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