BANGALORE, Karnataka: - With the rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party at the helm in Karnataka, attacks on churches and Christian religious institutions and personnel are continuing unabated in the state.
Despite assurances from the chief minister and the home minister - in the aftermath of a series of attacks early this year in Uttara Kannada district and elsewhere in the state - that such incidents would not recur, emboldened bigots struck again at a Catholic Church on the city outskirts last month and toppled statues on the premises.
On November 8, 2009, St. Anthony's Church at Kavalbyrasandra in the heart of Bangalore was burgled and ransacked.Christians are living in constant fear and the security and protection promised to the community is just a lip service, it seems.
Archbishop Bernard Moras of Bangalore spoke to SAR News on the sufferings of Christians, the raw deal meted out to them by the people in power, and the ignominy that's often unnecessarily heaped on them in the name of conversion.
SAR News: What is your reaction to the church attacks in Karnataka? Do you think there are vested interests of creating communal disharmony, or political instability in the state is behind these attacks?
Archbishop: With no revelation whatsoever from any of the investigations or inquiries in progress on the attacks on churches and Church personnel for over a year now, it is unfair to point fingers at anybody. But the onus lies with the government to establish if these attacks are planned attempts to discredit the government or clear acts of fundamentalist forces working against the minorities. We are all waiting in anxious anticipation to know the truth.
SAR News: Are you satisfied with the investigations done by the police? The November 8 attack, stated the police, was a burglary attempt. Your comments.
Archbishop: Investigations are on. Investigations are not over yet for over a year now with regard to all the cases of attacks on churches. Preliminary investigations on St. Anthony's Church attack tend to indicate 'theft', as some police officers have mentioned to the media. But as a religious head, my greater concern is about the act of desecration done to the church. The Blessed Sacrament, which is central to our Faith, was desecrated. It has hurt the sentiments of the Christian community. I will be happy if both the government and the police see this act of desecration as criminal, too, apart from just looking at the incident as theft or burglary.
SAR News: What do you expect from the Justice Somashekhara Commission inquiry into the church attacks?
Archbishop: I expect a totally unbiased, untainted and speedy establishment of the real truth behind these attacks. The Christian community and I have been waiting in eager anticipation for over a year now. It's longer than we expected.
SAR News: Police are short-staffed and have asked the religious institutions to safeguard their properties. What measures have you taken to ensure protection to churches and prayer halls and what are your limitations?
Archbishop: Even with the best of security, crimes have occurred in many places. We are seeing it every day. It is unfair to shift focus or blame our institutions for lack of security measures. The police are justified in asking us to ensure security at our churches and institutions. But it is important to realise churches are not commercial institutions that can afford to spend on security.
Wherever possible, we have ensured some element of security. In a free state, it is paradoxical that even a religious place which is supposed to be an abode of peace and holiness needs to be protected. Both the police and the government should work towards measures of promoting communal harmony and peaceful co-existence of all communities and not just rise in action when an act of vandalism or desecration to a religious takes place.
SAR News: Do you think there's a larger issue of alleged 'forced conversion' behind the church attacks?
Archbishop: Conversion to any religion is a constitutional guarantee for every citizen and his or her right. It is not an offence as some may interpret it to be. But 'forcible conversion' is certainly culpable. The Karnataka United Christian Forum for Human Rights, an association involving bishops and religious leaders from various Christian denominations, came together over a year ago to denounce any form of 'forced conversions' or any act that offends our brothers and sisters of any other religious faith.
I sincerely feel the issue of 'forcible conversion' is being exaggerated and blown out of proportion only to create animosity and disharmony between Christians and people of other faiths. The large majority of right-thinking people of other faiths know that the Christian community is not indulging in 'forcible conversions'.
SAR News: About 'Love Jehad'?
Archbishop: If the intention to convert someone to another religion by devious means is established, I am sure it is both illegal and tantamount to forcible conversion. Religion is a very personal thing. There are thousands of cases of people professing and practising totally different religions and yet living happy married lives. Any individual who is forced into accepting another religion has a right before the law to appeal for justice.