HASSAN/BELAGAVI: A tense atmosphere prevailed for some time on the outskirts of Belur town on Sunday after pro-Hindu activists engaged in an altercation with members of the Christian community, alleging forcible conversion of two youths.
Bajrang Dal activists gathered in front of the prayer hall on Billodu Road alleging that two youths had been forcibly converted, leading to heated arguments from both sides. The activists also allegedly tried to barge into the hall, raising slogans. Sources said the activists try to lay siege to the prayer hall alleging that there has been an increase in “forcible conversions”. They also allegedly tried to attack the head of the congregation.
The local police intervened and brought the situation under control. Additional police forces have been deployed to prevent any further flare-ups. Members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishat alleged that conversions are increasing in the taluk and complaints lodged with the police have not been taken seriously. They also warned that they will intensify protests if the police fail to curb forcible conversions.
Meanwhile, in Belagavi, the Christian community is anxious after public prayers which several Christian institutions were holding in private places were halted by the local administration.
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Some Hindu groups had charged them with engaging in illegal conversion. At least 40 pastors, who were conducting prayers in private halls, have stopped fearing attacks by right-wing groups for some time now, said Nanda Kumar, district superintendent of the Belagavi Methodist Church.
While some Christian priests, including Nanda Kumar, said police officials in several parts of Belagavi had asked pastors to stop prayers in private halls to avoid confrontations, Belagavi Police Commissioner Thyagarajan told a delegation of Christian leaders who met him recently that the police had not issued any advisory or order to stop prayers in private halls.
According to Nandakumar, the police have told the prayer groups that only those denominations with churches will be allowed to pray. All others have stopped public prayers. Some are holding prayers in houses of “believers’’ and some are doing it online, he said.
Highlighting a recent incident, he said, “Pastor Cherian, who conducted prayers at a private place in Sadashiva Nagar, was attacked by a group of people and was locked up inside for several hours on charges that he indulged in illegal conversion. However, with the intervention of the police and other priests, we were able to get him freed later.’’ An FIR has also been filed against Pastor Cherian on charges of illegal conversion, said Nanda Kumar.
Sources said that Christian priests have faced several attacks from right wing groups in the last one year in Belagavi region, but claime that the police did not come to their rescue. Instead, they asked to stop conducting public prayers.
Another local priest said Christians were feeling let down by the State Government, given the way they were being treated. If any illegal conversion was taking place, as alleged by the right-wing groups, the police should certainly initiate action against those responsible, he said.
Senior Congress leader Ivan D’Souza condemned the halting of prayers in private halls and said, the police were trying to satisfy the government by doing such things.