Former Karnataka BJP Spokesperson Vaman Acharya recently told NDTV that the Christian population has grown from 0.5% in 1951 to 3% in 2011 and this could not have happened without "illegal conversions". When asked if the government can prove if those conversions were illegal, he said, "All conversions, as far as we are concerned, are illegal."
He was interviewed in reference to the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill 2021, also being called the Anti-Conversion Bill, which is being considered to be introduced in the Karnataka Legislature Assembly in the current winter session, piloted by the State Home Minister Agara Jnanendra.
FactChecker first verified his statement over proportion of religion in Indian population since 1951 Census. Then, to check if there's anything as an "illegal conversion", we looked at the Right to Freedom of Religion, a ground-level survey conducted by a tehsildar in Karnataka, the draft bill and spoke to lawyers.
Claim 1: Acharya told NDTV, that Christian population has grown from 0.5% to 3%. When FactChecker contacted him for clarification, he said, "In 1951 Census, Christians constituted 0.08% even though the Britishers ruled for so much time. How is it that now it is 3%? In 2011 Census, it is mentioned that there are around 2.8% and there were many who don't write that they are Christians because they don't get the reservations. We don't want it to go to 10-12% because it will create problems when it comes to voting."
Fact: Religious composition in India's population has been fairly stable since Independence. The Socio-Economic Caste Census data from 1951 to 2011 on proportion of various religions in Indian population can be found in Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment's Handbook on Social Welfare Statistics – 2018. This shows that while Christians constituted 2% of the country's population in 1951, their population share rose to 2.34% in 2011.
According to the Census of India data (1951-2011), mentioned in a study by PEW Research Center, while the Hindu population has dipped from 84.1% to 79.8% in the 60 years and the Muslim population has increased from 9.8% to 14.2%, the Christian population has remained the same — 2.3%. This shows that Acharya's claim is untrue.
Claim 2: "All conversions, as far as we are concerned, are illegal," the BJP leader told NDTV.
Fact: Article 25 of the Constitution of India, on 'Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion', states, 'All persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion." At the same time, it also doesn't prevent any "state from making any law".
Karnataka's anti-conversion Bill, which was tabled in Assembly on December 21, 2021, provides basis for "prohibition of unlawful conversion from one religion to another by misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or marriage".
FactChecker spoke to a lawyer to find out if one, who has converted to another religion, is bound by law to report it and the answer was no. Maitreyi Krishnan, a lawyer at the All-India Lawyers Association for Justice, told FactChecker, "Currently there is no law in Karnataka which mandates one to report conversions to the government. Every person has the fundamental right to practice the religion and faith of their choice."
So, if people have the right to practice any faith of their choosing without having to report it, what exactly could constitute an "illegal" conversion? When FactChecker asked the same question to Acharya, he said, "They can convert people by wrong ways and I don't call it to be cheating, but forms of luring, mischief, misunderstandings, which are being used. In rural areas, they go to lower caste communities like Dalits and other downtrodden communities, where already there is hatred against the main flow of this country and the social harmony of the country is getting disturbed through conversions."
A ground survey conducted in Karnataka's Chitraduga district by the then Tahsildar of Hosadurga showed that none of those who converted to Christianity in the area were allured or forced to convert, and they converted voluntarily.
The report read that the survey was ordered based on a large number of prosecutions that had been reported on social media about those identifying as Schedule Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and other backward classes, who have been lured into converting to Christianity. The survey included churchgoers in Hosadurga.
The survey concluded that in churches, people "attend these [prayers] without force and there is no evidence of being lured to be converted and they don't claim any benefits from the government". The tahsildar, who conducted the survey, was reportedly transferred after the report was released.
Acharya told FactChecker it would be difficult to prove whether the conversions done until now were illegal. "It may not be illegal because to prove whether it is legal or illegal, it's difficult, I do agree, because if he or she comes to the court after being brainwashed and says that 'I'm getting converted on my own' [or voluntarily], you are left speechless and it can't be refuted," said the BJP leader.