A Christian group in India’s Karnataka state has sought police protection for Christmas carolers who expressed fear of attacks by anti-Christian vigilantes following the state’s enactment of an anti-conversion law.
“We submitted a memorandum to the director general of the police as we fear attacks on our community, our places of worship, and events like carol singing on the streets,” said Prajwal Swamy, leader of the Akhila Bharath Christha Mahasabha, or the All India Christian Grand Assembly.
He said even presenting gifts during the holidays might be construed as an attempt to lure someone to the Christian faith.
The police department, meanwhile, assured that the matter would be communicated to district chiefs and local police stations.
Swamy said that following the enactment of the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Act in 2021, the Christian community has suffered attacks from various groups.
In the cities of Channapatna and Mandya recently, Christians were reportedly targeted for attacks and were even arrested for alleged proselytization.
Last month, Mandya police arrested five people who were reportedly distributing religious pamphlets outside a church.
Those convicted face jail terms between three to ten years aside from a penalty ranging from Rs25,000 to Rs50,000.
Christians in the state expressed apprehension to participate in carol singing, a regular feature during the Christmas holidays, this year.
“It is for the first time that such a memorandum has been submitted seeking protection to celebrate our most important festival, the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ,” said Pastor Ramesh J Keng of the Bethel Church in Bangalore.
“It is not a good sign,” he said, adding that “unity in diversity is our motto.”
He said carol singing is a community tradition that is welcomed even by Hindu residents.
Archbishop Peter Machado of Bangalore, however, played the people’s anxiety down, saying the situation is not as bad.
“So far, we have not received any report of carol singing being stopped. There is a small group among us that complained to police,” said the prelate.
He said that in Bangalore carol singing is held every year.
“We are not scared of the [anti-conversion law] per se, but of the Hindutva groups who are hell bent on making false accusations and are spoiling the peace and harmony,” said the archbishop.
He cited an incident last year when a Christmas program for children at a Catholic school was prohibited. “We are not very sure whether there would be any problems (this year),” said Archbishop Machado.
The bishop said it would be good if the government takes measures to ensure a peaceful celebration of Christmas.
“They are well aware that Christians are a peace loving people who should be allowed to celebrate their festival in peace and harmony,” he said.
Data from the United Christian Forum show that the state has witnessed 30 hate crimes this year until November 21.
Last year a report by People’s Union for Civil Liberties noted that 39 incidents of hate crimes against the Christian community happened in Karnataka.
Christians comprise 1.87 percent of the state’s population.