Around 40 human rights organisations and several members of the Christian community held a protest in Bengaluru on Wednesday, 22 December against the contentious Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill-2021, or anti-conversion bill. The bill was tabled in Karnataka's Legislative Assembly on 21 December.
The protest march was held from Mysore Bank Circle to Freedom Park.
The broad coalition, through speeches, music and constitutional slogans, demanded that the bill be withdrawn as the Karnataka government is trampling upon the constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of religion, privacy and dignity.
The protest was also attended by Bengaluru's Archbishop Peter Machado, who has openly criticised the bill.
The bill aims to to prevent "unlawful conversion from one religion to another by misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or marriage."
Activists, Christian Community Members Denounce the Bill
Speaking to The Quint, Fr Faustine L Lobo, Secretary of the All Karnataka United Christian Forum for Human Rights said, "The Constitution is very clear about the freedom of religion and also punishment when it is not with free will."
He said the system has failed in enforcing the existing provisions in the law and this bill will only embolden anti-social elements in the society.
Opposing the bill, Brinda Adige, a Bengaluru-based activist said, "Instead of protecting the people who exercise their constitutional right to choose who and how they want to worship, politicians are bringing laws to control us."
Calling it a draconian bill, Ashok Maridas, coordinator, Samvidhanada Haadiyalli said that the bill criminalises the individual's right to faith enshrined in the constitution. "It will be misused against the minorities," he added.
Expressing similar views, Manavi Atri, lawyer at People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) Karnataka, said that the provisions in the Bill are vague and a total assault on the fundamental rights.
"It is condemnable that the entire agenda of the government seems to be to turn Muslims and Christians into second class citizen," Dr Sylvia Karpagam, an activist, said. Joining the voices criticising the bill, Leo Saldanha, another Bengaluru-based activist said, "It is the kind of response an unrepresentative and insecure government does".
'Why not Focus on Real, Pressing Issues?'
"Such a legislation is not needed in the present situation when more urgent issues on the economy, jobs and COVID related issues are creating disruptions," Economist Dr Joseph Rasquinha said.
Questioning why the government is looking away from real issues, Sylvia Karpagam said, "The constant effort by the government to show Hindus and Muslims as the enemy of the majoritarian Hindu community means that no resources are invested in many of the pressing issues currently facing the state. If the government does not look at the dire nutritional situation of children in the state, education, public transport, safety, livelihood, and healthcare, who else will?"
Even as the BJP government in the state claims that the law is in the interest of the people, members of the Christian community and activists see it as an attempt to promote intolerance.
If the bill is passed in the Karnataka assembly, it still needs to go through the Legislative Council where the BJP does not have a majority.