The Bharatiya Janata Party-led Karnataka government is set to table a highly-contended anti-conversion bill during the ongoing Winter Session of the state Assembly.
The bill, which has elicited widespread dissent from the Opposition, religious authorities, and the state's residents, seeks to impose stringent punishment upon those involved in the 'illegal' religious conversion of women, minors, and persons belonging to the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe categories.
The bill is likely to be tabled on Monday, 20 December, The Deccan Herald reported after an interview with the state's Home Minister Araga Jnanendra.
What does the bill propose to do? What has the Karnataka government said about the bill? Why is it being criticised? Here's what we know.
What is the Anti-Conversion Bill?
The draft bill, titled as the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill 2021, seeks to prohibit conversion from one religion to another by means that it lists as fraudulent.
A copy of the the draft bill, accessed by The Indian Express, notes:
“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 bill provides for the imposition of stringent punishment for violators of the anti-conversion law, with different sentences for persons belonging to the general category and those involved in converting persons belonging to the Scheduled Caste or Schedule Tribe categories.
While a general category offender will face a jail term of 3-5 years, and a fine of Rs 25,000, a violator involved in the conversion of a person belonging to the SC or ST category will be penalised with a jail term of 3-10 years, and a fine of Rs 50,000, as per The Indian Express. The latter punishment will also hold in the case of conversion of women and minors.
A person who wishes to wilfully convert to another faith will be required to inform the district commissioner two months in advance, upon which the DC will conduct an inquiry into the purpose behind the conversion.
Failure to apprise the district commissioner of the conversion as per the law will be punished by a prison term.
Further, upon conversion, persons will forfeit the benefits attached to their previous religion, including reservations, as per a statement by Home Minister Jnanendra.
Why Has There Been a Delay in the Tabling of the Bill?
The anti-conversion bill is being evaluated by the law department's scrutiny committee, said Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai on Monday.
Once cleared by the committee, it will be discussed by the Cabinet and will be introduced in the state Assembly.
The law department is studying laws from other states for the assessment of the bill, Bommai indicated. Three BJP-ruled states – Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh – have previously instated laws against 'forced religious conversions'.
What Has the Karnataka Govt Said About the Bill?
Karnataka Home Minister Araga Jnanendra, whose ministry is piloting the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill 2021, on Tuesday, 14 December, said:
"The anti-conversion law that we are bringing is not aimed at targeting any particular community. We are bringing it within the framework of the law. It is there in Article 25 of the Constitution that there cannot be forced conversions but there was no penal clause if such conversions take place."Karnataka Home Minister Araga Jnanendra, as quoted by news agency PTI
The statement was made amid backlash against the bill, which many felt was a weapon to discourage conversion to Christianity.
"Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, and Sikhism are all religions recognised by the Constitution. Worship and religious practices of people belonging to any religion will not be hindered. The bill is only to prevent religious conversions by inducements. There is no need for people to worry,” Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai was quoted as saying by news agency ANI on Sunday.
“The poor and vulnerable should not fall for it (conversions). Conversions lead to problems within families and hence this bill is being considered,” the chief minister asserted.
What the Opposition Has Said About the Bill
“The government is attempting to undermine the contributions of the Christian community in education and other fields by proposing this (anti-conversion) law. This is being done by the party with an eye on the 2023 Assembly polls,” Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee president D K Shivakumar was quoted as saying by The Indian Express.
“In whatever form the government introduces the bill, we will oppose it,” he asserted.
Meanwhile, former Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has accusing the BJP of trying to implement its "hidden agenda" by raising emotive issues like "Love Jihad, Anti Conversion," as per PTI.
(With inputs from ANI, PTI, The Indian Express, and The Deccan Herald)
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