Karnataka: VHP activists barged into an all-faith prayer hall, accused pastor of engagement in forced conversions

News Desk: Activists of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad allegedly barged into an all-faith prayer hall run by a Lingayat man in central Karnataka who believes in Jesus Christ and sang bhajans after accusing him of being a pastor engaged in forced conversions.

Somu Avaradhi, who runs the Prayer House for All People’s Church in Hubli, 400km from Bangalore, has been arrested after a local lodged a police complaint accusing him of trying to forcibly convert him. No action has, however, been taken against the VHP activists who forcibly entered the prayer hall on Sunday and were also accused of roughing up some people.

In a video clip that has been widely shared on social media, the VHP activists can be seen chanting “Shri Ram, Jai Ram, Jai Jai Ram”.

Hubli deputy commissioner of police K. Ramarajan said on Tuesday that Avaradhi has been booked under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. “He is accused of speaking ill of Scheduled Caste people,” the officer said.

Asked if the VHP members would be arrested for trespass and creating communal tension, Ramarajan said: “There is no complaint, but we are investigating the matter”

In a video clip that emerged on Tuesday, Avaradhi is seen telling the VHP activists that he had neither embraced Christianity nor had he been instrumental in converting anyone.

“I did not change my name, caste or religion. Even today my certificate shows I am a Lingayat” he said, responding to the allegation that he was a pastor.

While government records describe the Lingayats as a community within the fold of Hinduism, it was formed as a separate religion by the 12th-century social reformer Basaveshwara. A sizeable chunk of the community still considers themselves as members of a separate religion.

“A pastor gave me a copy of the Bible when I was battling for my life in 2000. Since then I became a follower of Jesus Christ and have been praying at my home” Avaradhi is seen telling the VHP activists in the video. It is not clear what had happened to him two decades ago.

A local man who regularly prays at the hall said VHP activists rushed in chanting Jai Shri Ram and began singing bhajans. The man, who declined to be named, said Vishwanath, who has accused Avaradhi of trying to convert him, had never been seen at the prayer hall.

The man said the VHP activists assaulted some of those at the prayer hall. He alleged that the local police station did not accept his complaint on the ground that the inspector was not available.

Karnataka VHP convener Raghu Sakleshpura claimed before reporters that Avaradhi was a pastor and had tried to convert Vishwanath, a Dalit, to Christianity. “We went to protest after Vishwanath complained against the pastor for trying to convert him. We only sang bhajans and did not do anything wrong” Sakleshpura said.

Some Christians in Hubli met Congress leader P.C. Siddaramaiah late on Monday in the city to apprise him about the incident. They plan to hold a protest in case the police fail to act against the VHP activists.