The Karnataka Legislative Council Thursday passed the contentious anti-conversion Bill tabled by the state’s BJP government amid objections by the Congress and JD(S).
The Karnataka Right to Freedom of Religion Bill had been cleared by the Assembly on December 23, 2021 but was not introduced in the Upper House as the BJP lacked a clear majority at the time.
In May 2022, an ordinance was issued to facilitate the introduction of the anti-conversion law. On Thursday, the Bill was introduced during the Monsoon Session with the BJP now enjoying a clear majority of 41 members in the 75-member Council. The Congress has 26 members and the JD(S) has eight.
“The SC has said that freedom of religion does not allow for forced conversions. There is freedom to convert but it should not be under coercion and allurements. Many in the Dalit community convert and still claim benefits and we do not want anybody to be robbed of benefits in this manner,” state Home Minister Araga Jnanendra said while introducing the Bill on Thursday.
“If there has to be conversions then let it be as per a law and that is the intention behind the Bill. There is no intention to take away anybody’s right or violate Article 25 of the Constitution [which guarantees the right to practice and propagate religion],” Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai said. “We want to maintain law and order and prevent a kind of a religious war.”
The Leader of the Opposition in the Council, B K Hariprasad of the Congress, said people tend to convert to escape oppression and that the Freedom of Religion is an integral part of the Constitution.“It is the relentless suppression of the SCs/STs that forces people to leave their religion. Without conversions the Lingayat and Veerashaiva faith could not have emerged in the 12th century,” Hariprasad said.
The Bill will now be taken up again by the Assembly for final legislation Friday.
As per the bill, “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”.
According to the proposed law, complaints of conversions can be filed by family members of a person who is getting converted, or any other person who is related to the person who is getting converted or even a colleague of the person who is getting converted. A jail term of three year to five years, and a fine of Rs 25000, has been proposed for people violating the law in the case of people from general categories and a jail term of three to 10 years, and a fine of Rs 50,000 for people converting minors, women and persons from the SC and ST communities.