A pastor and his wife have been arrested and remanded in judicial custody in Kodagu district of Karnataka for allegedly trying to convert a Hindu family in Kutta village on Tuesday, the day a contentious anti-conversion law was notified.
Pastor V. Kuriyachan, 62, and his wife Selenamma, 57, were, however, arrested under relevant penal sections and not the new Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Ordinance, 2022, that came into force after the governor’s assent on Tuesday.
Local Bajrang Dal activists barged into a house in the forest area of Kutta, some 230km from Bangalore, where the couple from Wayanad district in neighbouring Kerala were allegedly trying to convince A. Mutha, a tribal, and his family to pray with them after handing over copies of the Bible.
Local police arrested the preacher couple under IPC Section 295A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs), a cognisable and non-bailable offence punishable with up to three years in jail. The couple were remanded in 14 days’ judicial custody pending an investigation.
In his written complaint, Mutha alleged that the pastor and his wife were trying to convert them to Christianity as they had got his nephew and niece-in-law converted earlier.
He alleged that the pastor was using his nephew’s example to convince him to embrace Christianity. According to the complainant, Mutha’s nephew and wife regularly went to a church in Tholpetty, a village in neighbouring Kerala’s Wayanad district.
Local Bajrang Dal leader Sajan Ganapathy told reporters in Kutta that they got a “tip-off” about a conversion and rushed to Mutha’s house. “The couple had come ready to convert them and even had a list of people whom they had already converted in the area. So we handed them over to the police,” Ganapathy said.
According to him, the preacher couple have converted about 1,000 individuals from the Yerava tribal community to which Mutha belongs. “They have been taking Yerava people to the church in Tholpetty every Tuesday and Sunday with the sole aim of converting them,” Ganapathy alleged.
Police sources in Kodagu said the case was booked after Kutta cops conducted a preliminary investigation. But the sections of the new anti-conversion law were not invoked since the department was yet to receive any instructions from higher-ups.
The ordinance, which is now a law, has a provision against attempts to convert anyone from the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe communities. Such an offence could attract three to 10 years in jail with or without a penalty of Rs 50,000.
Karnataka home minister Araga Jnanendra had on Tuesday said the anti-conversion law would be strictly enforced in the state.
A source at the Bangalore Archbishop’s office said such cases were a natural outcome of the existing communal atmosphere and the anti-conversion law.
“This is exactly what we feared when the government started working on this law. There will be more such arrests in the future as anyone even helping an individual in need could be misconstrued as allurement or coercion to convert,” said the functionary, who declined to be named.
Archbishop of Bangalore Peter Machado had on Wednesday expressed disappointment at the governor giving his assent to the ordinance, just a day after a church delegation met him with an appeal not to do so.
Karnataka had witnessed several incidents involving Sangh parivar outfits barging into churches and Christian prayer halls alleging fraudulent conversions.