December 28, 2021 - 8:41 am

Karnataka Assembly Passes Anti-Conversion Bill 

    The Karnataka Legislative Assembly on December 23 passed The Karnataka Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021, commonly referred to as the anti-conversion bill amid opposition protests. The Bill proposes maximum punishment of a jail term of 10 years for forcible religious conversion of women, minors and people from the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes. It says that conversion from one religion to another by mispresentations, force, fraud, undue influence, coercion, allurement or marriage" is prohibited. Even after the Bill's passage in the Karnataka Assembly, it still needs to be approved by the state's Legislative Council.

    According to the bill, any converted person, his parents, brother, sister or any other person who is related to him by blood, marriage or adoption or in any form associated or colleague can lodge a complaint. A jail term of 3 to 5 years and a fine of ₹25,000 has been proposed for those violating the law in the case of people from general categories and a jail term of 3 to 10 years and a fine of ₹50,000 for those converting minors, women or persons from SC/ST communities. The proposed law also has a provision of "appropriate" compensation to be ordered by the court payable by the accused to the victim of conversion which may extend to maximum of ₹5 lakh in addition to the fine.

     The bill also requires the person who gets converted to inform the district magistrate of the conversion within 30 days, and he or she appear before the district magistrate to confirm their identity. Not informing the district magistrate will lead to the conversion being declared null and void. Once the conversion is confirmed, the district magistrate will inform the revenue authorities, social welfare, minority, backward classes and other departments of the conversion who will, in turn, take steps with respect to the entitlements that the person may receive in terms of reservations and other benefits. It, however, provides an exemption in the case of a person who "reconverts to his immediate previous religion" as "the same shall not be deemed to be a conversion under this act."

    The Congress described the BJP's Bill as draconian and anti-human. The party also alleged that it had been introduced to target a particular community. The Karnataka government has decided to follow in the footsteps of Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh which have enacted the laws with clear communal undertones to push ahead with the bill keeping its eyes focused on the 2023 assembly polls. While the laws introduced in the other state signalled a victory for the Sangh Parivar's "love jihad" campaign, in the case of Karnataka, the Bill under consideration is being seen as a tool to harass Christians. However, The BJP-run Karnataka government continues to insist that the Bill is only aimed at "forceful conversions", but the opposition and the Christian community are not convinced.