Pastors halt prayer meetings in Karnataka after police warn of attacks by extremists

9 December 2021

Pastors in the Belagavi district of India’s Karnataka state have stopped holding weekend prayer meetings in rented halls or private homes following a series of attacks by radical Hindutva nationalists alleging that forced conversions were taking place.

They were given informal warnings by police that it is “in their own interest” to halt the meetings to avoid confrontation with the radicals.

At least 15 members of the Hindutva nationalist Bajrang Dal group disrupted a prayer meeting in Belur, Karnataka state on Sunday 28 November

“The police have told prayer groups that only those denominations with churches will be allowed to pray. All others have stopped public prayers,” said Nanda Kumar, district superintendent of the Belagavi Methodist Church. Police have also asked hall owners not to rent out their premises for prayers.

A Belagavi pastor said extremists had carried out at least 15 attacks against pastors this year. “But police have not helped us,” he added. “Instead, they are asking us to stop conducting prayers.”

He said some police officers had told pastors that they had to avoid problems until the end of the winter session of the state legislature, due to take place in Belagavi from 13 to 24 December. Karnataka’s Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai is expecting the legislature to pass his proposed anti-conversion law.

The informal warning from police comes at a time when prayer halls are being attacked by Hindutva nationalist groups. On Sunday 7 November members of Sri Ram Sena attacked a Protestant prayer meeting at Maratha Colony in Belagavi, locking worshippers inside and abusing the pastor, Lema Cherian. Police intervened and registered a complaint against Pastor Cherian for allegedly holding a prayer meeting without permission.

On Sunday 28 November radicals barged into a prayer meeting in Belur, in Karnataka’s Hassan district, falsely claiming that forced religious conversions were taking place.

Police Commissioner K. Thiyagarajan has denied that police have issued any official advisory or order for prayer meetings to halt. He stated, “Anybody can practise any faith. There is no need for fear or panic. We only request all groups follow Covid-19 protocol and other regulations.”

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