Are feelings of hate ingrained in human beings like love, or does hate emerge due to external motivation? This was among the points debated in the Karnataka Legislative Council last week as the ruling BJP government pushed through the Karnataka Protection of Freedom of Religion Bill, 2022.
While the central point of the six-hour debate, driven by the Leader of Opposition in the Council, the Congress’s B K Hariprasad, was that the anti-conversion Bill was intended to ensure that the downtrodden Dalits and Scheduled Tribes remained confined to the chains of the caste system, the BJP, led by Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, argued that the new law does not curb anyone’s freedom or stop conversions but only seeks to regulate them.
Hariprasad, a former MP, also called the Bill an indirect targeting of Christians, listing their contribution in the areas of education, health, and emancipation of women in the country.
Both the government and Opposition delved into history, philosophy, and “the source of human emotions like hate and love”.
Love ingrained. Is hate too?
Hariprasad said: “Religion has got linked to politics and this link has politicised some religions and militarised some religions. When hate comes out of religion, it creates problems. This is the reason we have to remain within the framework of the Constitution and law.”
The CM responded: “Hate is not in a religion but in man. Hate is in the people who are at the helm of affairs of a religion. Hate is within us. Just like love, there is also hate in individuals.”
Hariprasad argued that love could not be equated with hate. “Nobody can force somebody to love somebody. (But) Hate is motivated and is not an inborn trait. This is happening all over the world… Love is not motivated, it is an inborn quality. Hate is motivated, it is man-made.”
Bommai countered that both “hate and love come from within us”. “These are qualities given to us by God. If you think that hate is motivated, then that is a weakness. We tend to argue according to our mindsets.”
Bommai went on to talk about ancient religious wars and the Holocaust. “The Church was ruling at one time in Rome and Greece. The democratic systems came much later. In this situation, the religious wars occurred on a very large scale. The Holocaust is a part of history. Our intention is to prevent such a situation and to protect peace in society,” the CM said.
Bommai also argued that there was “terrorism in the name of religion”. “If left alone, a religion will go on the path of peace, love and compassion. But what is happening is that there is terrorism in the name of religion, in the name of dharma, there is adharma. People are taught that they will go to heaven if they carry out acts of terrorism… When there is an effort to force religion… brainwashing, people are becoming terrorists,” he said.
The Karnataka CM said: “The result of all this is disruption of peace in society, a prevalence of wrong beliefs, and loss of communal harmony. To prevent this situation, the (anti-conversion) law is needed. Let there be conversions as per law… there is no effort to steal the rights of anyone or violate Article 25 of the Constitution.”
It was JD(S) MLC Marithibe Gowda who brought up the freedom of religion guaranteed under Article 25.
The caste argument
Presenting the Bill, Karnataka Home Minister Araga Jnanendra said one of the aims of the new law was to prevent the benefits available to Dalits from being availed by those who had converted to other religions. “Dalits often get converted but retain the benefits available from the State to them. They also live as members of the converted community,” Jnanendra said.
Hariprasad said this was a wrong approach. “Conversions happen because of the continued oppression of SC/STs. They are forced to leave their origins. The law of the land is in the hands of the ‘haves’ and the well-off. Even after all these years of Independence and the Constitution, people have not been fully liberated,” the Congress leader said.
The Leader of the Opposition added: “All communities carry out atrocities on the ‘have-nots’, but for a Dalit, the suppression is of a different kind. A Dalit cannot grow a moustache, if a Dalit wears a watch, they cut his hand, if he rides on a horse, they kill him. They are not allowed into temples and cannot participate in community feasts.”
Hariprasad pointed out that Babasaheb Ambedkar had converted to Buddhism along with five lakh people to escape the same oppression.
While concurring with the Congress leader that the lower castes were suppressed, Bommai said there were laws to check that. “Do you agree that there are restrictions on poorer classes of all sections of society? The ‘haves’ always try to control the ‘have-nots’… (But) There are laws to prevent this from happening. This is why we have to create laws,” the CM said.
Hariprasad, however, insisted that there should be deeper contemplation into why people convert. “There are seven major religions in India. Three big world religions have their origin in this country… All are equal before the Constitution… In this situation, we have to consider why conversions take place… The reason is that people are treated as outcasts,” he said.
Hariprasad added that even K R Naryanan, the first Dalit president of the country, said “clearly that they do not come under the Hindu religion and are outcasts”.
He also wondered if there was a larger intent behind the legislation. “If they (the SCs) are no longer Hindus, the Hindus will become a minority… To prevent this, they (the government) are trying to keep Dalits in the Hindu fold by force… threats… Why are you bringing such restrictions?” Hariprasad said, noting that the new law requires the person getting converted to state why he is doing so.
Who is the target?
As per the Congress leader, the target of the anti-conversion law was the minority Christian community. “The weaker sections did not have access to education, and women were kept out of it. It was Jyotirao Phule and Savitribai Phule who emphasised the need for the education of women. If there was a Mahatma before Mahatma Gandhi, it was Jyotirao Phule. Christian missionaries also played a role by allowing even Shudras into the education system, and to let them learn English,” Hariprasad said, adding that this democratised education by ensuring it did not remain “the private property of some”.
Christian missionaries also created the largest number of hospitals, Hariprasad said. “The deprived getting access to health and education created a stir in society… upset some sections, ” he argued.
CM Bommai said positive changes could not be attributed to Christian missionaries alone, and that many were brought about by spiritual revolutions. “The spiritual revolutions and the thought revolution that have happened in this country have not happened in any other country. Yes, there are injustices, but from Ramanujam to the Ramakrishna Math, reform has been carried out. The society has also risen against established norms.”
He reiterated that the only goal of the law was to prevent coercion and allurement. “This law is not intended to control anyone or to prevent anyone from expecting change in their lives.”
Law Minister J C Madhuswamy said: “We have not brought it with any community as a target. We are not targeting Christians… We are only saying that conversions should happen under a procedure.”
The BJP’s Chalavady Narayanaswamy, a Dalit and first-time member of the Council, said the Bill was needed, as “a large number of people of the Dalit community are being lured to Christianity”. He also raised the issue of “love jihad”. “This is a form of conversion. Another form of conversion is through preaching, where a feeling of alienation is created by saying there is no divinity in Hindu gods, that they don’t have powers, and that ‘Our God will take away all your sins… You just need to believe and all your illnesses will go away’. There is an effort to misguide us,” Narayanaswamy said.
Also the leader of the BJP Karnataka SC Morcha, he admitted that there were many temptations as the other side offers education, health services, “a good future”. However, Narayanaswamy said, questions need to be asked. “The numbers of the Christian community have increased through conversion of lower castes. This is how their religion has grown. Churches have come up in tribal areas and forest regions. In rural Bengaluru, there are colleges for teaching preachers. Where does the money come from for such activities?”
He also argued that benefits to those SCs who have converted should end. “All those who have converted should come back to Hinduism. Those who continue to live as SCs should not be deceitful, they should declare they have converted and stop availing State benefits,” he said.
Where are the complaints?
The JD(S)’s Marithibbe Gowda asked where the need was for an anti-conversion law when there were no complaints of forced conversions in the state. “My fear is that this law goes against the Constitution and the right to freedom of religion. My concern is with the clauses which allow complaints of illegal conversions to be filed against me by members of my family, friends, and my colleagues. Is this not unconstitutional? Does it not go against my individual freedoms?” Gowda argued.
The Karnataka Right to Freedom of Religion Bill was first introduced in the Assembly, in December 2021. It was not tabled in the Legislative Council at the time, on account of the BJP lacking a clear majority in the House. Even as the matter is pending in court, the Bommai government brought the Bill in the Legislative Council. With BJP numbers now up, it had smooth sailing.
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 law, complaints of conversion can be filed by family members or any relative of a person who is getting converted or even a colleague.
A jail term of three to five years and a fine of Rs 25,000 has been proposed against people violating the law; 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.
In case of a wedding between people of different religions, it will have legal recognition only if the conversion is brought to the notice of a district magistrate 30 days in advance of conversion and 30 days after conversion.
Several BJP-ruled states have brought in similar anti-conversion laws recently, or tightened the same. They are under challenge in various courts.