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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Draft bill against conversion in Karnataka could deepen polarisation, speaks of a larger shift in state politics

🔴 It could become a weapon in the hands of right-wing groups that seek to project the majority Hindu community as being under threat from minorities in the state.

By: Editorial |
Updated: December 20, 2021 10:00:32 am
Caste and communitarian loyalties have determined the political framework in Karnataka within which questions of political representation and distribution of public goods are raised and resolved.

The Basavaraj Bommai Cabinet is set to discuss the draft Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill 2021 this week and legislate during the ongoing winter session of the state Assembly. The Bill comes in the wake of a series of incidents in which the Christian community, that constitutes less than 2 per cent of Karnataka’s population, has been targeted for allegedly converting Hindus to Christianity. With draconian provisions including a 10-year jail term for “forced conversion”, it violates the letter and spirit of the constitutional protection for the individual’s right to profess and propagate a religion and to choose or change faith. It could become a weapon in the hands of right-wing groups that seek to project the majority Hindu community as being under threat from minorities in the state.

Similar laws enacted by BJP-ruled governments in UP, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have been challenged in courts. In Karnataka, a political campaign to ban religious conversions gained momentum since the BJP first came to office in 2008, targeting Christian groups, particularly Pentecostal missions and born-again Christian denominations. A report by the United Christian Forum (UCF), Association for Protection of Civil Rights (APCR), and United Against Hate released on December 6 says that there have been 32 incidents targeting Christians and their places of worship in Karnataka this year. A parallel campaign against Muslims has also been launched — on “love jihad” — that accuses the community of luring women of other faiths for conversion through marriage. The anti-conversion law could install a legal regime with the potential to criminalise all inter-religious marriages: The Karnataka draft Bill states that “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 any fraudulent means or by marriage, nor shall any person abet or conspire for conversions”. Any family member or relative of a person converting can file a complaint under the draft Bill. If it becomes law, harassment by “moral police” could gain legal sanctity. It may also further embolden mobs to encroach on private spaces with impunity.

Caste and communitarian loyalties have determined the political framework in Karnataka within which questions of political representation and distribution of public goods are raised and resolved. The BJP seems poised to abandon this delicate balance in favour of an overtly polarising and ideological thrust.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on December 20, 2021 under the title ‘In bad faith’.

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