Karnataka Home Minister Affirms Strict Implementation of ‘Anti-Conversion’ Law

Affirming the Karnataka government’s commitment to strict implementation of the proposed “anti-conversion law”, state Home Minister Araga Jnanendra on Tuesday said it is not against any religion, but religious conversion by force or through inducement has no place under the legislation. Trying to allay the fears of the Christian community, the Minister clarified that there is nothing in the proposed legislation that curtails the constitutionally provided religious rights.

Last week, the Karnataka cabinet had decided to promulgate an ordinance to give effect to the contentious law against religious conversions, and it is now before the Governor for his assent. ‘The Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill’ was passed by the Legislative Assembly in December last year. However, it is pending for passage in the Legislative Council, where the ruling BJP is one short of majority.

The ordinance, which contains all the elements of the bill passed by the assembly, will come into effect after the Governor’s assent, and it is likely to remain effective until the government passes the bill in the Legislative Council, during the next legislature session. Strongly defending the ordinance, the Minister said this step was taken aimed at maintaining peace and order in the society. Taking note of Christian community leaders meeting Governor Thaawarchand Gehlot on Monday with a memorandum opposing the anti conversion law, he said, “there is no proposal in this proposed legislation that curtails the constitutionally provided religious rights.” Archbishop of Bengaluru Peter Machado in the memorandum had appealed to the Governor to refrain from giving assent to the Protection of Religious Freedom Ordinance proposed by the Government of Karnataka.

Pointing out that the bill was discussed in detail in the assembly and an MLA (Goolihatti Shekar of BJP) had illustrated about the divide that religious conversion has brought in his family, Jnanendra said, “once the ordinance gets approval, it will be implemented effectively.” Reminding that the Congress had plans to bring in the anti conversion bill in the past, he said, “our government has not only strengthened it, but is committed to strictly implementing it.” During the passage of the bill in the Assembly, Jnanendra had said that eight states have passed or were implementing such a law, and Karnataka would become the ninth one. The bill that was passed by the Assembly and now will come into effect in the form of an ordinance, 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.

It proposes an imprisonment from three to five years with a fine of Rs 25,000, while for violation of provisions with respect to minors, women, SC/ST, the offenders will face imprisonment from three to ten years and a fine of not less than Rs 50,000. The bill also makes provisions for the accused to pay up to Rs five lakh as compensation to those who were made to convert, and with regards to cases of mass conversion there shall be a 3-10 year jail term and a fine of up to Rs one 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, 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. The offense under this bill is non-bailable and cognizable.

It mandates that persons 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 give 30 days advance notice in a format, to the District Magistrate or the Additional District Magistrate.

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