Pastor Somu Avaradhi’s attackers blocked a highway to press for his arrest for alleged religious conversion
A pastor of a Protestant church was held by the police after a mob of pro-Hindu activists barged into a church in the Indian state of Karnataka and began singing bhajans or Hindu devotionals as a protest against alleged forced religious conversions.
A video clip of the incident reported from Hubbali town on Oct. 17 showed activists of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) and its youth wing, the Bajrang Dal, forcibly entering Bairidevarkoppa Church and singing devotionals.
Pastor Somu Avaradhi and some of his associates reportedly sustained minor injuries in a scuffle but Arvind Bellad, a local member of the legislative assembly belonging to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), blocked a highway along with his supporters demanding their arrest.
Local media reported both the groups claiming they were attacked. The pro-Hindu activists in their complaint charged the pastor with “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings.”
Pastor Avaradhi was held by the police but let free after questioning. The church’s authorities too filed a complaint on Oct. 18. City Police Commissioner Labu Ram said investigations were underway.
Brother Simon of the Divine Deliverance Ministry in Dharwad told UCA News that he and his community had full faith in the law of the land. “Let the police authorities do their duty. Those who allege Christians are into religious conversions should prove it,” he said.
The Protestant leader said they had no issue with other faiths and maintained a very good rapport with people of other religions.
Father Eusebio Fernandes, the diocesan administrator of Belgaum, a nearby town, said he came to know of the incident through the media but refused to comment on it.
Raghu Sakleshpora, the state convener of Bajrang Dal, claimed that “one [person named] Vishvanath was taken to the church for conversion. Our members assembled inside the church and in order to protest started singing bhajans.”
The church authorities denied any conversion attempt by them as alleged by the attackers.
Pastor Avaradhi had arrived after he was informed of the mob barging into the church and was immediately surrounded by them. He was manhandled with other members and sustained minor injuries during the scuffle that ensued, said a senior member of the church.
The incident comes close on the heels of the provincial government in Karnataka ordering a survey of churches and other Christian institutions in the state to weed out “unauthorized” ones.
Goolihatti Shekhar, a BJP legislator who steered the decision while chairing a panel on backward classes and minorities welfare, told the media that the survey also aims to check “forced religious conversion which is rampant in some parts of Karnataka.”