A historic church in India's Karnataka state was attacked and vandalized days before Christmas by unknown individuals, which is regarded by local Christians to have been spurred by the passage of an anti-conversion law.
The International Christian Concern (ICC) said the attack happened on December 23 at the St. Joseph Church of Karnataka, which is under the Archdiocese of Bangalore and said to be more than 150 years old. Bangalore is India's information technology capital. The St. Joseph Church is located in Chikaballapur district of the state, which is 65 kilometers from Bangalore.
"A statue of Saint Anthony was found broken in St. Joseph Church in Bangalore Archdiocese on December 23 morning. We have no clue who could be behind the attack," Archdiocese of Bangladore Public Relations Officer J.A. Kantharaj told the Union of Catholic Asian News.
The ICC said local Christians believe that the attack was part of an intimidation strategy against the Karnataka's Christian community perpetrated by radical Hindu nationalists. Although the local police have already filed a report on the incident against unknown assailants.
The state has recently enacted an anti-conversion law, the Karnataka Protection of Right to Religion Freedom Bill 2021, which was introduced by the Karnataka Legislative Assembly on December 21. The bill was passed by the legislature and is pending enactment. The passing of the bill is said to be opposed by the state's Congress and other opposition parties.
"BJP politicians have publicly used false anti-Christian narratives to justify the need of the anti-conversion law, drumming more anti-Christian violence across the state," the ICC said.
Accordingly, Christians fear the enactment of the law since it is expected to increase persecution against them on top of what they already endure in Karnataka. The Christians then staged a protest against the bill on December 22 led by Archbishop Peter Machado.
The protest was held from the Mysore Bank Circle up to the Freedom Park and was participated in by more than 40 organizations who "vociferously demanded that the Bill be withdrawn as the Government of Karnataka is trampling upon the constitutionality guaranteed rights to freedom of religion, privacy, and dignity."
UCA News reported that Karnataka has been prone to many attacks on churches and houses of prayer by Hindu vigilante groups. Christians, who make up 1.87 percent of the 68.4 million population in Karnataka, have experienced 39 violent attacks as per a report by an Indian Protestant group.
Prior to the attack on St. Joseph Church, an identified man with a machete barged into a Belagavi church and chased the priest in charge of the place.
"The anti-conversion bill is anti-Christian (for it) does target Christians specifically," Machado said to members of the press during the protest.
Machado explained that the bill has "stringent clauses" that penalize even charity work, which is regarded as a crime. He cited free education to students, which is charity work, as one of the acts the bill will punish once it is enacted into law.
"Even giving free education or a fee waiver to help poor students can be treated as a violation of the law," Machado remarked.