Karnataka to go ahead with anti-conversion bill despite protests
12/18/2021: The pro-Hindu government in Karnataka plans to ignore protests and go ahead with the introduction of an anti-conversion bill in the southern Indian state’s legislative assembly.
Latest information indicates that the bill titled the “Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill 2021,” will be presented in the assembly on December 20.
The bill proposes a 10-year jail term for forcible conversion of persons from Dalit and Tribal communities, minors and women, to another religion.
“Why do we need any anti-conversion laws when there are enough safeguards enshrined in the constitution and the existing legal system in the country to punish the guilty?” asks a press statement from the Bangalore Archdiocese, signed by its Archbishop Peter Machado.
Several protest meetings were held and the Karnataka Regional Bishops’ Council and ecumenical council met the chief minister asking him to withdraw the decision, but radical Hindu groups strongly campaign for the bill.
Attacks on Christian groups, pastors and priests are also on the increase in Karnataka since the debate on the bill started.
The archbishop’s statement says Christians are alarmed after several Church groups were attacked in the past two months.
Archbishop Machado told the latest protest rally on December 6 that the anti-conversion bill will give way for more harassment on minorities and people will take the law into hands.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is pushing the bill during the assembly’s ongoing winter session in Belagavi (Belgaum). The Legislature Party meeting held on December 16 decided to table the bill in the House during the session.
The state cabinet is scheduled to meet on December 20 in Belagavi and the draft bill is expected to be tabled at the meeting and subsequently in the legislative assembly next week.
The proposed draft bill says that “conversion from one religion to another by misrepresentation, force, fraud, undue influence, coercion, allurement or marriage’’ is prohibited.
“No person shall convert or attempt to convert either directly or otherwise any other person from one religion to another by use of misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or by marriage, nor shall any person abet or conspire for conversions,’’ the draft bill adds.
According to the proposed legislation, complaints of conversions can be filed by family members of a person planning to change his religion, or anyone related to the person getting converted.
A shorter jail term is proposed for people violating the law in case of general categories, but it is severe for forced conversions from among minors, women and persons from the Dalit and Tribal communities.
The bill says even marriages conducted with the intention of conversions can be declared null and void by a family court or a jurisdictional court.
The draft bill says if any person intending to convert to another religion after the law comes into force will have to give a two months’ advance notice to the district magistrate. Not informing the authorities will also attract jails for the ones converted and the ones executing the conversion.
Similar anti-conversion laws exist in other BJP-ruled states such as Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
However, the opposition parties, including the Congress, have threatened to oppose the bill in the Karnataka assembly.
There seems to confusions among the ruling party members. Some want bill presented in the current winter session while others want more studies about the pros and consequences of the law before it is implemented.
The government had ordered some surveys and studies to find out if forced conversions are actually happening. In one such survey in Hosadurga in northern Karnataka, Tahsildar Tippeswamy reported that no forcible conversion had happened under his jurisdiction.
Tippeswamy, in his report, pointed out that forced conversions are false claims. His report was forwarded to the government through the deputy commissioner of the district, but instead of accepting his report, Tippeswamy received a transfer order December 17.