It has been a week since a group of Hindu vigilantes barged into a small church in Karnataka's Belur town alleging coercive religious conversion, but not a single arrest has been made even though an FIR was registered against five Bajrang Dal activists for causing communal disharmony. The incident took place at a church called "Life to the Nation's Ministries", about five hours away from Bengaluru.
On November 28, around 25 activists of Bajrang Dal barged into the church when a prayer meeting was going on. Instead of cracking down on the aggressors, the cops who were summoned to take stock of the situation were allegedly seen negotiating with the Bajrang Dal activists.
Following a complaint from the members of the church, the Belur police had registered an FIR against five people of the Bajrang Dal on charges of breach of peace. A top police official, instead of taking legal action, organised a peace meeting and got a formal assurance from both sides that there will be no future trouble even though videos from the day of the incident clearly captured the activists initiating the aggression. "We summoned both the communities to the station and conducted a peace committee meeting. Both communities have ensured they won't escalate the issues and sorted it out amicably," said Srinivas Gowda, Superintendent of Police, Hassan district.
The members of the church have denied allegations of coercive conversion. "Why should we do forceful conversions? We are worshiping God. What is the benefit of forceful conversion? We were pained by their actions. I have faith in the religion and wanted to be a Christian, it's my personal decision and it was my right. For the past five years, I have been a part of the prayer meets. Nobody forced me. It's my voluntary decision to come to the church," Sunitha, who was present on the day of the altercation, told NDTV.
Suresh Paul, the pastor of the church, also denied the charge. The church has been active for three years now, he said. "No conversion is taking place. This is not a place for conversions. The activists came here and threatened us and even tried to beat some people up," Mr Paul added.
The Bajrang Dal activists who were part of the mob that barged into the church are unapologetic. "Yes, we have an issue with those converting to Christianity. Once born a Hindu, you die as a Hindu. A member of Bajrang Dal from Nagenahalli informed us over the phone that forced conversion is taking place in Belur. A lot of people have been converted to Christianity and it will continue, please take cognisance," Manjunath, Convenor of Bajrang Dal in Hassan district, told NDTV.
Though cops have been deployed outside the church to provide protection, the pastor says he is still worried. "The issue was sorted amicably. But looks like this won't stop. They want to induce fear in us," he said.
The attacks on churches come at a time when the Karnataka Chief Minister has promised to bring in an anti-conversion bill during the upcoming winter session of the assembly.