Conversion, Karnataka, anti-conversion law, The Federal
In scores of instances, the poor and the starving have been lifted from their misery by proselytising groups from either Christianity or Islam. Representative photo: PTI (File)

BJP government in Karnataka passes anti-conversion bill in assembly

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The Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021 was passed by the state assembly on Thursday.

The Congress opposed the bill, calling it “anti people”, “inhuman”, “anti constitutional”, “anti poor” and “draconian”, and urged that it should not be passed for any reason and should be withdrawn by the government.

The JD-S too expressed its opposition to the bill, which was introduced in the assembly on Tuesday.

The bill was passed by a voice vote, even as Congress members were protesting from the well of the House, demanding continuation of the debate on the bill that began in the morning.

Also read: Bommai govt tables anti-conversion bill in Assembly amid protests

They were also expressing their anguish against some remarks made by minister K S Eshwarappa, during his intervention in the debate.

The Congress seemed to be on the back foot with the ruling BJP alleging that the bill was actually “initiated” by the Siddaramaiah-led Congress administration, and placed documents to support its claim before the House.

Though Siddaramaiah, who is now the Leader of Opposition, denied it, later on personally going through the records in the Speaker’s office, he accepted that as the CM he had then only asked the draft bill to be placed before the cabinet and no decision was taken in this regard, and hence it cannot be seen or projected as the intention of his government.

With Siddaramaiah alleging RSS hand behind this bill, Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai said: “The RSS is committed to anti-conversion, it is not a hidden secret, it is an open secret. Why did the Congress government in 2016 initiate the bill during its tenure following the RSS policy? It is because Congress CM in Himachal Pradesh Virbhadra Singh had brought a similar law. You are a party to this bill.”

Bommai said the bill is both constitutional and legal. “It is for a healthy society… Congress was indulging in vote bank politics by opposing it now, their double standard is clear today.”

The Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021, provides for protection of right to freedom of religion and prohibition of unlawful conversion from one religion to another by misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means.

The bill proposes an imprisonment from three to five years with a fine of 25,000, while for violation of provisions with respect to minors, women, SC/ST, offenders will face imprisonment from three to ten years and a fine of not less than 50,000.

The bill also makes provisions for the accused to pay up to 5 lakh as compensation to those who were made to convert, and with regards to cases of mass conversion the bill proposes 3-10 years jail term and a fine of up to 1 lakh.

It also states that any marriage which has happened for the sole purpose of unlawful conversion or vice-versa by the man of one religion with the woman of another religion, either by converting himself before or after marriage or by converting the woman before or after marriage, shall be declared as null and void by the family court.

Where the family court is not established, the court having jurisdiction to try such case, on a petition presented by either party thereto against the other party of the marriage.

The offence under this bill is non-bailable and cognisable.

The bill that is also being opposed by Christian community leaders, mandates that those who wish to convert to another faith shall give a declaration in a prescribed format at least 30 days in advance to the district magistrate or the additional district magistrate specially authorised by the district magistrate in this regard of his residing district or place of birth within the state.

Also the religious converter who performs the conversion shall also give 30 days advance notice in a format, to the district magistrate or the additional district magistrate.

Also, the person who wishes to convert will lose the religion of his or her origin and facilities or benefits attached with it, including reservations. However, one is likely to receive the benefits entitled to, in the religion he or she converts to, Home Minister Araga Jnanendra, who piloted the bill, said.

According to Jnanendra, eight states have passed or were implementing such a law, and Karnataka would become the ninth one. 

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