Mar 2024


Karnataka is situated in the southwestern region of India and is one of the most prosperous states in India with tremendous progress in the fields of education, industry, agriculture, literature and tourism. Karnataka is the seventh largest state in India in terms of area with 30 districts. As per the 2011 Census, the state has a population of around 60 million people. Of the total population, 61.33% of population lives in urban areas and 38.67% lives in rural areas. 17.15% of the population is Dalit or Scheduled Caste (SC) and 6.95% is Adivasi or Scheduled Tribe (ST).[1] Hindus are majority in the state with 84% of the total population, followed by 12.92% Muslims and 1.87% Christians. The rest of the population is distributed across other religions. According to the World Christian Database, Karnataka has a population of 70,990,000 with Hindus forming 77% of the population and Christian population of 4%.

There are three major political parties who rule the state over time. BJP and Congress (INC) are the two national parties and Janata Dal (Secular) is a state-level party. The right-wing BJP has mass support from the Western Coast (between Kerala and Goa) and northern Karnataka bordering Maharashtra, whereas Congress and JD(S) compete for support in the rest of the state. BJP rules the state at present, headed by CM Basavaraj Bommai who succeeded B. S. Yediyurappa as the Chief Minister of Karnataka, also of the BJP. In the previous election of 2013, the Congress formed the government with backward caste leader Siddaramaiah as the chief minister of the state. In 2018, the government became unstable with a coalition between INC and JD(S) but after cross-party defections, the BJP gained sufficient floor strength to form the government on its own. After three years in 2021, the BJP national leadership replaced Yediyurappa with Bommai. Both leaders come from North Karnataka, belonging to the Lingayat community.

With elections due in mid-2023, the political situation in the state is marked by an intense clash and competition between various castes for constitutional protection and benefits. The dominant castes in Karnataka are Vokkaligas who mostly support JD(S) but a smaller number of them also support Congress, and the Lingayats who mostly support BJP. There are also various Muslim, Dalit and Adivasi groups as well as OBC sub-castes who support Congress[2]. For example, the Madigas are a numerically significant Dalit caste that has been demanding internal reservation within the broader reservation for Scheduled Castes. While Congress has supported their demand in principle, both Congress and BJP governments have failed to implement internal reservation in practice[3].


The largest concentration of Christians is found in seven districts, namely, Bangalore Urban, South Canara, Udupi, North Kanara, Bidar, Mysore and Kolar. Apart from these districts, Dharwad, Chikmagalur, Shimoga and Chamrajnagar also have substantial number of Christians. The Catholics of South Kanara (now Mangalore) were very few in number and subsequently strengthened by immigrants from Goa. Later the castes of Billava (traditionally working in toddy extraction) and Bunt (non-dominant castes) who converted to Protestantism facilitated by the German Basel Mission established in 1834. While majority of the early wave of Christians in Karnataka are Roman Catholics, the more recent wave of Christians is affiliated to a wide range of interdenominational and non-denominational groups such as Methodist, Pentecostal, orthodox Syrian and its offshoots etc. The latter groups came to Karnataka and other parts of India due to the Evangelical Awakening that crossed from England to India in the mid-19th century[4].


For more than a decade, Hindu nationalist organisations in Karnataka have been mobilising public opinion and fanning hate against religious minorities, including Muslims and Christians. Although the official discourse is framed in terms of religious majoritarianism, the perpetrators are often dominant castes while the victims of violence are almost always Dalits and Adivasis (whether they are Hindu, Muslim or Christian). Previous religious majoritarianism movements have resulted in an anti-cattle slaughter law in January 2021, thus making it illegal to transport, slaughter and trade all cattle (cows, bulls, oxen) in the state[5] (although the law does not restrict procurement and transport of beef from other states). Such legislation has heavily impacted Dalits both in terms of their livelihood and their diet (an integral part of culture and identity). Karnataka Governor Thaawar Chand Gehlot on May 18,2022 gave his assent to the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Ordinance, 2022. Karnataka is now the twelfth Indian state to pass a law against religious conversion. The controversial law prohibits conversion “from one religion to another by use or practice of misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or by any of these means or by promise of marriage”. Doing so can lead to imprisonment of 3-5 years with a fine of Rs 25,000 (approximately 300 USD).[6] These attempts by the state to create a hostile atmosphere for Christians is seen by society as a clear signal of the state’s intent towards Christians. Hindu nationalist organisations have taken this intent of the state as a green signal to launch a series of vigilante attacks on small and independent house churches across rural Karnataka. Mobs have attacked pastors and vandalised churches alleging that Hindus are being illegally converted to Christianity.

Karnataka has seen a rise in attacks against Christians, while the patterns are similar one can see that in some cases, the violence acts a persistent threat, depending on where the influence and network of the pastor involved. In this case, Pastor Jeevan (name changed), has been instrumental in spreading God’s word through education, where he offers courses on Bible Education in Bangalore to young adults who are keen on going deeper into the faith.  He believes that reading the Bible gives a person insight into the faith, rather than practicing it blindly. He strongly believes that one should practice what one preaches. He is also a translator and has translated the Bible from English to Kannada and Korean.

Hailing from Yadgir district in northern Karnataka, he has been travelling across the state spreading the Lord’s word. Ancestrally, he was Hindu and his family was supported by missionaries in South Karnataka. They converted a long time ago and follow the Methodist faith. He mentions, “No one really knows who God is,” and his curiosity led him to search deeper to find out. He completed his initial course at the theological college and seminary in Kolar District of Karnataka (about 60 kilometres from the capital city of Bangalore). He started his work as a pastor in 2002, when he was 18, and since then he has faced physical violence. In the early 2000s, he began working in Nelamangala (town located in Bangalore rural district) where he was serving 300 villages. Church members had made him a house in Begur (town on the outskirts of Bangalore), and he was shortly thereafter attacked by a mob. He recalled, “The RSS has been against us since the early 2000s. After the service, they barged in and intimidated me. They threatened my believers and me. They organized a Panchayat against me and threatened to kill me, if I continue. I had to abscond.”

Pastor Jeevan is driven by his principles, he clearly stated he has never taken money for God’s service. In 2006, he was attacked again in Kolar. He shared, “I was serving God’s word in Kolar. My believers were very connected to me. I have visited at least 650 houses there. I was also formally baptized here by the Superintendent Staff Nurse. She had requested me to screen a film on God’s word. 10 families gathered to watch the film in my home. RSS sent people to follow me from the church to my home. They entered from my backyard and started beating me with sticks and rods, thankfully the believers escaped. They destroyed our projector which cost 85,000 rupees (roughly 1000 USD) and broke the speakers and screen as well. A village government meeting was called, but the staff superintendent nurse resolved the situation by saying it was a private gathering. I started running and they chased me for nearly 5 kilometres. I thought I will follow the railway tracks and reach Kolar city. It was quite late by now, maybe 1 am. The RSS goons found me on the railway tracks and attacked me with stones. Somehow, there was miracle, because the stones hit me, but did not hurt me. Someone found me in the dark and took me to the Nyaya Panchayat[7] and I was rescued.”  

These kinds of attacks have consistently followed Pastor Jeevan. Again in 2008, he was attacked in Bangalore while conducting a prayer meeting. He was accused of church planting because he had set up three church committees. After subsequent attacks, the police, too, were familiar with him. The attackers were asked to apologise to Pastor Jeevan and were released with a warning by the police.

The most recent attack took place on 2nd July 2022. Pastor Jeevan had his own residence in Bangalore and sold his house to finance the construction of a Bible college which he set up in 2012. The site on which the college stands is also owned by the Pastor. Regular classes were carrying on, alongside with construction work. That particular day, students had come for their graduation ceremony and were at a discussion.

I am a professor; I know my job. Everyone knows that I am a pastor – and a professor. I was talking to the workers and suddenly, about 50 people barged into the gate, with 5-10 cars.  

They started harassing me. I told them that I am not running a church, it’s a theology class. Someone informed them, asked them to come here. I was attacked when I was locking the door. No questions asked, they attacked us saying we are doing conversions. I defended my students by saying that they are there on their own will. This is not a church, this is a Bible College residency. What affected me the most, when they twisted my son’s [14 years] hands and beat them with hand, sticks and stones. They beat our workers too. We got scared – they started hitting us with stones and other construction material around. They chased us for nearly one kilometer. I lost sight of my children [two sons, aged 11 and 14] because we ran in different directions. By then our students called other pastors who rushed to the site and started looking for us. The workers also helped us a lot. They took us to the hospital and admitted us there. Almost 200 pastors came and prayed for us. My wife’s sister’s family was also beaten. Their four-month child was also beaten. There are no boundaries, the hatred against us is so high. They damaged our car and pulled out the graduation gowns (worth 200,000 rupees or nearly 2500 USD) and tore them into pieces, our phones (worth 30000 rupees or 360 USD) were broken, original papers of our car were torn and destroyed.”

This incident has left the pastor shattered. They filed a First Information Report (FIR) and as with many cases, a false and counter-FIR was filed against Pastor Jeevan stating that he went to several Dalit households and told them that “your God is a monkey” and converted people to Christianity. His bail has come through but the whole family is living underground, as there is a huge risk of being attacked again.

In this case, the police also did not cooperate. They still have not given him a copy of the FIR, even though they have taken his signatures for the filing of the FIR. This is significant since the police with Jeevan’s signature may file an incomplete or even false report. When they asked for police protection in the area, they were denied. Given that construction work of the Bible college is continuing, they need to ensure that no one is attacked.

“These goons need to be arrested. With the law also not on our side, how can we practice our faith without fear. The Bible says we need to ask for mercy, show the other cheek when slapped, ask for repentance. After so many attacks, I am not able to understand the enmity that the BJP and RSS have against our faith. There is no tolerance whatsoever. The media needs to cover their apology to us, but our society enables this violence.”

On meeting his children, who are still recovering from multiple fractures, they mentioned how they were afraid to get out, or even go to school. The pastor has made the effort to inform the children in advance that there will be bad days – that they too will see persecution, but they need to stay strong and live with the word of God. For everything that the children have heard about Jesus being a foreign God, about forced conversions, the pastor has assured and taught his children about how Jesus lives within them.

The pastor also shared that he suspects that the attackers were paid to do this. “Original Hindus love everyone and accept religious differences. They will not bother others. These are not people coming out of their faith, they are doing it to protect politicians and political power. All Christians, Muslims, Hindus need to awaken and open their eyes. I need to stand for justice to practice my religion. I don’t want to be scared and hide.”

As a Dalit Christian, Past Jeevan spoke eloquently about the intersection of caste and Christianity, specifically on the need for the unity of Christians in contrast to the divisiveness of the caste system. “Casteism needs to end and it needs to be pulled out of the system. It is important to be one where we can accept religious differences. Caste is man-made. Believers have to internalize the Bible – it is not important to change names and surnames. We need to feel confident in our beliefs and practices and look at sinners as ignorant. Members from the Christian community from all denominations also need to look into this seriously. Today it is us, tomorrow it can be against all churches. We need to be prepared, when they come with the sticks and rods, we cannot simply run. We need to build it a movement. A non-violent movement, aware and prepared for danger at all points.

The pastor currently has had to move houses yet again, in order to protect his wife and children from this danger. They are still shaken up from this incident. However, they stand strong as a family unit and have un-faltered faith in the Lord. The pastor’s house is filled by books on the faith and he has the conviction to build a library in his new college, which can function like a safe public space.


[1] https://www.censusindia2011.com/karnataka-population.html

[2] https://thewire.in/politics/no-govt-has-been-re-elected-in-karnataka-since-1985-can-the-bjp-buck-the-trend

[3] https://frontline.thehindu.com/social-issues/social-justice/politics-indalit-quota/article32643422.ece

[4] Aziz, A. (n.d.). An overview of Christians in Karnataka with a special focus on the plight of Dalit Christians. Retrieved from https://dom.karnataka.gov.in/storage/pdf-files/Sir%20Syed%20Ahmed%20Khan/DALIT%20CHRISTIANS%20-%20Moses.pdf


[5] https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/reality-karnataka-beef-ban-what-s-legal-what-s-not-167109

[6] https://www.deccanherald.com/state/top-karnataka-stories/anti-conversion-ordinance-becomes-law-in-karnataka-as-governor-gives-nod-1110049.html

[7] A system of dispute resolution at the village level, connected to the Panchayat (village government)

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