Amid vociferous opposition from the Congress party, the state legislative council on Thursday (Sep 15) passed the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill (popularly called the anti-conversion Bill) piloted by the BJP government in a bid to address the serious issue of predatory proselytisation.

By Swarajya Staff

The Bill was passed by the legislative assembly in December last year but was not introduced in the upper house since the ruling BJP did not have a majority. Chief minister Basavaraj Bommai-led government had promulgated an ordinance to effect the law.

The ruling BJP secured a majority in the upper house after it gained seats through a series of elections. In May this year, four of its candidates -former deputy chief minister Laxman Savadi, party’s state secretaries Hemalatha Nayak and S Keshavaprasad, and president of SC Morcha Chalavadi Narayanaswamy, were elected unopposed to the council. In June, the party emerged victorious in teachers and graduates constituencies. With these victories, the party gained a majority with a strength of 39 in the 75-member legislative council,

The proposed law will prohibit religious conversion “from one religion to another by use or practice of misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or by any of these means or by promise of marriage”.

The discussion over the Bill in the Upper House was marked by acrimonious exchanges with several Congress members, including Leader of the Opposition BK. Hariprasad raised slogans and opposed it. Hariprasad was also seen tearing the copies of the Bill before walking out of the house.

Defending the Bill, the state home minister Arth Jnanendra said there was no hidden agenda or vote bank politics involved.

The Bill does not take away anyone’s religious freedom and anyone can practise the religion of his or her choice,but not under pressure and allurements, Jnanendra clarified.

The Bill will allow anyone connected to the converted person to file a complaint. “If the converted person belonged to an SC (scheduled caste) community, then he or she would lose facilities and entitlements meant for SCs. That’s why we have given this provision for any nearest person to file a complaint,” Jnanendra added.

Once the Bill is notified as law, those convicted of forced conversion will face 3-5 years imprisonment and a fine of Rs 25,000. Converting a minor, woman or member of the SC/ST community will be punishable with 3-10 years in jail and a Rs 50,000 fine. While punishment for forcible mass conversion is a 3-10 years jail term along with Rs 1 lakh fine, a converter failing to declare his new faith even while availing reservation benefits faces a 1-5 years jail and Rs 25,000 fine.

Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister J.C. Madhuswamy said that the Bill was not an “anti-conversion bill” but “a Bill to protect religions”, which was within the ambit of the constitution.

Participating in the debate, CM Bommai said the government had taken steps to prevent forced conversion.

“Religious practice is allowed under the constitution. The Bill has been framed to prevent forced conversion. The country has a history of spiritual revolutions.” he added.

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