For the past three weeks, a small town in rural Dakshina Kannada has been on the boil over claims of forced conversion. Yet, there is no complaint with the police.
On Tuesday, a large number of people, a few thousand by some estimates, blocked the main road of Sullia town for three hours in the morning. Under the banner of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, members of several organizations gathered to protest against what they called “forced conversions”.
The most recent case, they claimed was that of 23-year-old man named Satish Acharya, who they claimed had converted to Islam. The basis of their claim is a “certificate” which has been doing the rounds on WhatsApp.
Chetan*, a relative of Satish’s who requested anonymity, told The News Minute that the family was upset at the turn of events. He works in Bengaluru and learned of these happenings when he visited his village Mandekolu. Incidentally, it happens to be the native place of union Minister for Statistics and Programme Implementation, DVS Sadananda Gowda.
“We knew nothing until I visited home about 20 days ago. An acquaintance in the village showed me a photo of a certificate by a religious institute which claimed that he had converted. But everyone in the village knew about this,” Chetan says.
On WhatsApp and social media, news is being exchanged about massive conversions going on in the district.
“We learned about Satish through one of our cadres, and one of our workers went and spoke to him. There is a big attempt to convert people here,” claims Na. Sitaram, the local RSS representative. "There was a self-declared bandh on Tuesday morning."
Chetan, who is 32, says that the family doesn’t quite know what to be believe because Satish doesn’t really say anything concrete. “See, he knows I don’t have a problem if he wants to convert. He could have at least told me. He’s very secretive, and keeps backtracking all the time. The family just wants him to be ok, and not get into any anti-social activities.”
He says the family is worried that he has been “brainwashed”. Sullia is just 50km away from Kasargod, Kerala’s northern most district. In the past few months about 20 people have gone “missing” from their homes, some of them with their families, and are feared to have joined ISIS.
“Ours is a small village. People here don’t understand secularism and that it’s ok to change your faith. So all this has whipped up a lot of fear among people,” Chetan says.
This, is precisely the problem, says a senior police officer who requested anonymity. Despite allegations of “massive forced conversions”, no one has come forward to lodge a complaint alleging that someone had forcefully “converted” anyone.
“There is an allegation of forced conversion, but where is the proof? We have spoken to the man, and he says he has not converted to Islam. We have tracked him down and he has spoken to his mother. He is in Bengaluru, too scared to return because he thinks he will be assaulted,” the officer told The News Minute.
On rumours of a certificate of “conversion” obtained from a religious centre in Kerala, the officer said: “We don’t work on hypothesis. If anybody has any proof, let them come forward. Our police stations are open. They can lodge a complaint.”
He said that the absence of a complaint in the light of the protest was in itself a statement. “They (organisers of the protest) are doing their job, we are doing our job,” he said sarcastically.
Dakshina Kannada Superintendent of Police Bhushan Gulabrao Borase, however, told The News Minute, “We are looking into the matter.” He confirmed that there was no FIR.