Amid protests on 23 December 2021, the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill got a nod from the state’s legislative assembly. Months before the bill was debated, the regional media had begun building a narrative of “forced mass conversions” by Christians, without making a distinction between conversion as a matter of choice and conversions that may be coerced. It portrayed Hindus as victims and demonised even the peaceful gathering of Christians.
On 9 March, the Kannada news channel Dighvijay 24X7 aired an episode titled “Conversion is scarier than Terrorism! Do you know how much money is made when a Hindu converts to Christianity?” The programme was geared towards stoking communal animosity. The anchor, Mamatha Hegde, made references to a Supreme Court decision on the right to propagate—also known as the Stanislaus judgment—to encourage aggressive action against Christians. The 1977 judgment had made a distinction between the right to propagate one’s religion and the right to convert to a different faith.
“Many are not aware of what they must do if a Christian priest approaches them,” Hegde said. “Please know that you must all call the police and give a complaint. Tell the police that they are trying to convert. If ten people get punished, then the eleventh person will not come. If we do not show courage, if we do not protect our religion, then none of this will stop. In 1976, even the Supreme Court said that right to propagate does not mean the right to convert.”