Explaining a survey on ‘illegal churches’ ordered by the House Committee, Karnataka BJP MLA Goolihatti Shekhar said the aim of the survey was to check the churches’ mandate and also push for a law to deal with forced conversions.

Karnataka’s Legislative Committee on Backward Caste and Minority Care yesterday ordered a survey of authorized and unauthorized churches and their priests, and the registration of cases where complaints of forced religious conversion have arisen.

Shekhar, a member of the committee, recalled his family’s experience with “forced transformation” in an exclusive conversation with him CNN News 18 Numerous inquiries about the survey were addressed.

Edited excerpts from the interview:

Q) What is the subject of the survey?

My mother had converted to Christianity on the promise of a cure for her health problems. But now she has returned to her old religion. But in this city (Husadurga) alone, there are finally three to four promiscuous churches that indulge in “forced conversions.” Therefore, officials in the Home and Revenue Department were tasked with compiling data on the exact number of churches. The commission will then present its recommendations to the state government on the legislation needed to reduce this.

When we talk about our fellow Muslims, we take up issues about this community – Shadi Mahal, endowment properties, etc. – and review them. Similarly, we will check scholarships for Christians. Two months ago, we started collecting data and statistics about each community, and what grants represent their rights, because their well-being is of paramount importance to us.

So, we talked about how many churches there are and how many mosques there are, and we’re collecting data on that. So, in this context, we asked how many churches there were in each of the last two months. In each district there are officers – for the directorate of minorities, a secretary, etc., who are headed by the district commissioner. When we asked them, they said there are 1,790 churches in Karnataka.

When they said there were 1,790 churches, at the time, our minority department officials told us one thing – when we visited some churches, they turned us back rudely, without cooperation. So we wanted valid statistics and information.

Since Home Office, Law, Minority, and Revenue officials attended the meeting, we told them we needed a comprehensive report on the number of churches in the state and report back on that. Since some officials said they encountered hostile situations while visiting some churches, and officers from the Ministry of Interior and Revenue were present at the time, the SP and district commissioners should head this up and give us a comprehensive report on the issue.

There is a feeling of unlicensed churches in many places, where forced conversions are taking place – on every street there is a church, and in the houses there are unlicensed churches. This forces people to convert by fulfilling different kinds of promises. There are many indigenous Christians, who are Christians by birth and we have also asked mosques for this information and we want a factual situation on this information.

Q) So you asked for a survey on how many churches there are?

Not scan. This is just a report. And yes, we provide data on various Hindu temples and associations. This is also part of this routine.

Q) Did you request a report on unauthorized temples as well?

Our committee is about backward classes and minorities. We asked for data on mosques and degrees, since we have to give them money for development. Likewise, we have to give the churches money for their development as well.

Q) Do you feel conversions have increased due to unauthorized churches?

Sure enough, I gave one example to my mom, who is a convert. In my home town of Husadurga, I have only seen one church since I was born. Now, there are nine churches. Among them, at least three to four unlicensed churches. There is Srirampura Church and Bethel Church and there are Christians in that place. The patriarch (father) who is there, someone named Nagaraj who presides over the church, is Veerashaiva Lingayat. He converted to Christianity and became a priest, and now, wherever he goes, he forces people to convert, and many such cases are increasing in this state.

Q) Will the commission make recommendations for unlicensed churches as well?

Forced transfers are those that are made by giving some promise or some bribe – such as saying that cancer will be cured or kidney disease will be cured. Some say your financial problems will be resolved if you transfer, and we will demand action against these forced transfers.

Q) MLA Ashok Naik of Shimoga said in the countryside that those who have converted should give up the advantages they had in the community or class to which they previously belonged. What do you have to say about it?

We will provide as part of our recommendations. Our committee’s recommendations are reported to the legislature. Then, it will leave the decision of what to make and what is to be carried out to the legislature and the government. The context in which Naik made the statement is that there are scheduled caste members who benefit from SCs and minorities, so they must receive benefits within one class.

Q) Would you also like to bring a bill on this matter?

Absolutely. This is a widespread topic in our state and country. Hindu dharma can be destroyed in a few years, and our culture may be forgotten by the next generation. Our faith is Hindu, and our country is Hindustan, so we want to assure the state government to introduce a bill as soon as possible to stop forced remittances.

Q) Why did your mother turn?

I can send you some video clips. She was mentally disturbed as my father and older brother passed away in the same year of 2014. At that time, she was tired of her prayers a lot, yet her husband and son were not protected. She also had some health problems. Someone took her to church and said she would get better there.

Even if my mother is forced to switch, she doesn’t even know what the problem is. People have told me that they have been asked to convert for various reasons – if their children don’t marry, they are told that the conversion will help. Someone was told if he converted, his kidney problems would be treated. Yesterday someone came to me and told me that he wanted to return to our faith. Every day, there are many people who call me to tell me that they want to return to our faith. You have already restored my mother to our faith. Many now realize that they have been tricked into converting. For example, there was a person with a mental disability who was told that he would recover if he went to church. So they became like proxies. To take and convert people, many say they are stuck in this and cannot return to their original faith. That is why we want to stop the forced transformation processes in our state and our country.

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