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Karnataka Anti-Conversion Ordinance: Writ Challenge To Be Filed in High Court

A writ challenging the anti-conversion ordinance and law in its totality is expected to be filed in May.

Updated
India
5 min read
Karnataka Anti-Conversion Ordinance: Writ Challenge To Be Filed in High Court
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Karnataka Protection of Right to Religious Freedom Ordinance, commonly referred to as the ‘anti-conversion’ ordinance, will be challenged in the state’s High Court this month. The challenge will be filed as a writ.

While the state cabinet promulgated the ordinance the previous week, it got the governor’s assent on 17 May. In effect, with Governor Thawar Chand Gehlot giving his assent, the ordinance has become law and can be implemented in the state.

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“The ordinance will be challenged in its totality. It is not just a few sections that are problematic. The whole thing has to go,” a source close to the legal team preparing the writ told The Quint. To respect the secrecy of the legal process, the source did not want to name the groups which are expected to challenge the ordinance in court.

According to its detractors, the anti-conversion bill targets religious minorities in the state by criminalising charity and inter-religious marriages. The bill also violates the right to privacy and right to propagate one’s religion, the challenge is expected to point out.

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Anti-Conversion Law ‘Could Promote Attacks on Minorities’

In the past, two separate studies by People’s Union of Civil Liberties and Evangelical Fellowship of India had pointed out that Karnataka had witnessed 62 hate crimes against Christians in 2021. The crimes were committed allegedly by Hindu right-wing groups.

The effort has been to target Christians, who form 1.87 percent of the state’s population, over ‘conversions,’ the Catholic church in Karnataka has been alleging. According to EFI and PUCL, several Christians preachers were attacked by vigilantes who claimed they were ‘forcing Hindus to adopt Christianity.’

Demolition of a 20 feet statue of Christ in Karnataka’s Kolar district.

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

The Quint had earlier reported that government had also instituted three surveys to classify “authorised and unauthorised” churches in the state. These surveys were widely criticised by the Christian community and its leaders including the Archbishop of Bengaluru Peter Machado.

The anti-conversion ordinance is expected to encourage more such attacks, as it puts the burden of proof on those who want to adopt any religion, other than the one they were born into, the writ is likely to contend.

According to the ordinance, those who want to adopt a religion will have to submit two declarations before a district magistrate or additional district magistrate.

The ordinance states: “One who desires to covert the religion, shall give a declaration in Form-I 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.”

Miscreants allegedly vandalised a church, in Dakshina Kannada's Kadaba Taluk's Peradka area.

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

While this declaration will have to be submitted 30 days prior to the conversion, another declaration has to be submitted after conversion. The declarations will then be put up on notice boards for public scrutiny.

The writ may contend that this violates an individual's right to privacy. The insistence that personal details should be displayed before a district magistrate could violate privacy rights laid down by the Supreme Court judgment in Puttaswamy v. Union of India.

The person who wants to help someone convert will also have to submit similar declarations. This legal process could help vigilante groups to target those who want to adopt any religion, the writ is expected to contend. The law may give “legal sanction” to such attacks, it could be argued.

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Terms Under Question: ‘Allurement’ and ‘Conversion by Marriage’

As per the ordinance, conversions by “allurement” will be considered illegal. However, the term “allurement” is too broadly defined.

Allurement can be “any offer or temptation” in the form of “gift, gratification, easy money or material benefit in cash or kind…employment, free education in school or college run by any religious body…promise of marriage, better lifestyle or divine displeasure…”

Allurement will also include “portraying practice, rituals and ceremonies or an integral part of a religion in a detrimental way vis-à-vis another religion or glorifying one religion against another religion.”

The term could be contested in the writ for being unconstitutional on several grounds.

A grotto at a church in Karnataka vandalised by miscreants. 

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

The definition is expected to infringe upon the right of minority educational institutions to offer charity to those in need, the writ may contend. Restrictions on charity may be contested for violating promise of fraternity.

The broad brush definition can also infringe upon the right of religious minorities to propagate their religion as it criminalises preaching the merits of one religion over the other.

The definition can also be contended for challenging inter-religious marriages in which spouses convert to other religions.

The “promise of marriage” clause can be detrimental to such marital unions, the writ may contend. The definition can also be contested for violating the constitutional right to choose one’s life partner.

A day after the ordinance got governor’s assent, both PUCL and the Metropolitan Archbishop of Bengaluru issued statements condemning the same. However, neither said that legal recourse will be taken.

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What PUCL, Archdiocese Statements Say

The PUCL has questioned the constitutionality of the ordinance in its statement. “The criminalisation of charity, love across lines of religion as well as freedom of faith in the form of this ordinance is a blatant violation of the constitutional safeguards and must be resisted by all those who believe in the constitution,” PUCL’s statement read.

Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Bengaluru Peter Machado issued a statement expressing the Christian community's anguish.

“The entire Christian community across the state of Karnataka is deeply hurt and is disturbed that the government has let down the Christian populace living the state,” the statement from Machado read.

Archbishop of Bengaluru Peter Machado.

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

The Christians in Karnataka feel “betrayed” as their “sentiments” and “selfless service in the fields of education, healthcare and other social areas for the welfare of all communities” were not taken into consideration.

The government promulgated the ‘Anti-Conversion’ Bill as an ordinance despite the community’s insistence that it is “malicious and irrelevant,” the statement read.

The ordinance aims to segregate Christians from the rest of the communities in the state, the statement accused.

As per the statement, the Christian community “will pursue the options available to it to democratically ensure that this Act does not come into force.”

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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