India: A Duel Between the Archbishop and the Governor

June 10, 2022
Msgr. Peter Machado, Archbishop of Bangalore

The state of Karnataka (South-West India) has just adopted a new anti-conversion decree which weakens a little more, if possible, the situation of Christians in the country. The Church intends to do everything possible to prevent the new provisions from coming into force.

Since May 18, 2022, Archbishop Pierre Machado has been concerned. The Archbishop of Bangalore – who also presides over the assembly of bishops of Karnataka – learned from the press, like all the faithful, of the content of the new decree.

The governor – a member of the anti-Christian Hindu nationalist Barhatiya Kanata Party (BJP) – has just signed an anti-conversion decree which punishes with imprisonment for three to five years and fines of 25,000 to 100,000 rupees (300 to 1,200 euros ) any conversion “by force, by any illegitimate influence, by pressure, by trickery or by any fraudulent means,” or even “by a promise of marriage.”

A real coup on the part of the governor, angry at having failed to use the democratic process to pass the anti-conversion bill presented to the legislative assembly in December 2021.

“Christians feel betrayed,” says Bishop Machado. And all the more so since the authorities of Karnataka rely on arguments that the prelate considers “fallacious.” According to them, the decree of May 18 was justified by an exponential increase in conversions to Christianity and Islam in this state in southwestern India.

Reasons that contradict the facts, for Msgr. Machado, who appeals to official statistics: “the small Christian community in India is decreasing in proportion to the population: according to the data of the last census, the percentage of the Christian population in the country in 2001 was 2.34% and fell to 2.30% in the 2011 census.”

And the Archbishop of Bangalore noted that the same trend was seen in Karnataka, where the 2001 census showed a Christian population of 1.91 percent, which fell to 1.87 percent in 2011.

Not to mention the fact that “no cases of forced conversion have been observed or reported in Karnataka, rendering the anti-conversion decree unnecessary,” underlines Msgr. Machado.

The prelate intends to make the governor back down by using all the legal means at his disposal.

Because on the Catholic side, we are not short of arguments: Fr. Cedric Prakash, a Jesuit based in Gujarat, in the west of the country, believes that the decree of the governor of Karnataka violates “Article 25 of the Indian Constitution [which guarantees to every citizen the freedom to adopt, practice and propagate his religion].

If the decree were to come into force, the state could “from that point on prosecute a Christian for simple acts of humanity such as giving alms, working free of charge to offer an education to children from poor Hindu families".

And Archbishop Machado evokes the “thousands of schools, colleges, and hospitals” run by the Church throughout the country, the disappearance of which would be taken very poorly by many Hindus who benefit from these free services.

The next phase of the duel between the governor and the archbishop will probably be arbitrated from New Delhi, the federal capital where the Supreme Court, the highest court in the country, sits. The latter has just rejected the creation of a commission to monitor the activities of Christian missionaries in India. Something to give some hope.