Belagavi: The contentious “anti-conversion bill” was passed by the Karnataka Legislative Assembly on Thursday, amid din, with Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai terming it as both ‘constitutional and legal’, and aimed at getting rid of the menace of religious conversion.
Opposing the “Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021”, tooth and nail, the Congress dubbed it “anti-people”, “inhuman”, “anti-constitutional”, “anti-poor” and “draconian”, and urged it should not be passed for any reason and that it be withdrawn by the government.
JD(S) too expressed its opposition to the bill, which was introduced in the Assembly on Tuesday.
The bill provides for protection of right to freedom of religion and prohibition of unlawful conversion from one religion to another by misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means.
It proposes an imprisonment from three to five years with a fine of Rs 25,000, while for violation of provisions with respect to minors, women, SC/ST, the offenders will face imprisonment from three to ten years and a fine of not less than Rs 50,000.
The bill also makes provisions for the accused to pay up to Rs five lakh as compensation to those who were made to convert, and with regards to cases of mass conversion there shall be a 3-10 year jail term and a fine of up to Rs one lakh.
It also states that any marriage which has happened for the sole purpose of unlawful conversion or vice-versa by the man of one religion with the woman of another, either by converting himself before or after marriage or by converting the woman before or after marriage, shall be declared as null and void by the family court. Wherever the family court is not established, the court having jurisdiction to try such case, on a petition presented by either party thereto against the other party of the marriage.
The offense under this bill is non-bailable and cognizable.
The bill was passed by a voice vote on Thursday, even as Congress members were protesting from the well of the House, demanding continuation of the debate on it, that began earlier in the day.
They were also expressing their anguish against some remarks made by Minister K S Eshwarappa, during his intervention in the debate.
However, the Congress seemed to be on the back foot with the ruling BJP alleging the bill was actually “initiated” by the former CM Siddaramaiah led administration, and placed documents to support its claim before the House.
Though Siddaramaiah, now the Leader of Opposition, denied it, later on went through the records in the Speaker’s office and accepted that as the CM he had then only asked the draft bill to be placed before the cabinet and no decision was taken in this regard. Hence it cannot be seen or projected as the intention of his government.
With Siddaramaiah alleging RSS’ hand behind the bill, Chief Minister Bommai said, “RSS is committed to anti conversion, it is not a hidden secret, it is an open secret. Why did the Congress government in 2016 initiate the bill during its tenure following the RSS’ policy? It is because Congress CM in Himachal Pradesh Virbhadra Singh had brought a similar law. You are a party to this bill.”
Bommai said the bill is both constitutional and legal, and aimed at getting rid of the menace of religious conversion.
“It is for a healthy society…. the Congress was indulging in vote bank politics by opposing it now, their double standard is clear today.”
The bill that is also being opposed by Christian community leaders, mandates that persons who wish to convert to another faith shall give a declaration in a prescribed format at least 30 days in advance to the District Magistrate or the Additional District Magistrate specially authorised by the District Magistrate in this connection of his residing district or place of birth within the state.
Also the religious converter who performs the conversion shall give 30 days advance notice in a format, to the District Magistrate or the Additional District Magistrate.
Further, the person who wishes to convert will lose the religion of his or her origin and facilities or benefits attached with it, including reservations. However, one is likely to receive the benefits entitled to, in the religion he or she converts to, Home Minister Araga Jnanendra, who piloted the bill, said.
According to Jnanendra, eight states have passed or were implementing such a law, and Karnataka would become the ninth one.
He said though the Constitution itself prohibits conversion by force or with allurements, there was no penal clause, which has been provisioned in this bill.
Explaining the bill, Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister J C Madhuswamy said its initiation was by the Law Commission of Karnataka under the advise of the then Congress government in 2016, led by Siddaramaiah.
He said, “the draft bill prepared by the Law Commission, has been scrutinised by the scrutiny committee, and there is your (Siddaramaiah) signature as CM on the draft bill, to bring it before the cabinet…. but it did not come before the cabinet. We have proceeded what they (Congress govt) had initiated and left.”
Siddaramiah said that following a memorandum on anti conversion law, from some people with RSS and saffron party background including Chidananda Murthy and Mathoor Krishnamurti, former CM B S Yediyurappa during the previous BJP government in 2009, had forwarded it to the Law Commission, and therefore there is RSS hand behind the bill.
“It is part of RSS’ hidden agenda,” he charged.
Hitting back, Yediyrappa said, “it is true that we have brought this bill based on their petition and considering similar acts passed by other states, but it is also true that you (Siddaramaiah) too had approved this bill and had asked it to be tabled before the cabinet….why are you playing political theatrics now?”
Senior Minister K S Eshwarappa said, all BJP members in the assembly belong to RSS.
“Yes it is because of RSS we have brought this bill, as it has taught us the culture of protecting this country and religion. There is no RSS hidden agenda, we will bring three more such bill, like we previously brought anti cow slaughter act….we will not allow conversion from Hindu religion, we will not allow our population to be reduced..,” he said.
Earlier debating on the contents of the bills, Siddaramaiah said his party opposed it and alleged that the bill introduced in Karnataka was identical to the one passed in UP, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.
“It is cut and paste….who drafted it? I have doubts that someone known has drafted or dictated it. The bill is against and contravenes the provisions of the Constitution, so it won’t stand in the eye of the law, it will be struck down. There are already provisions in the Constitution and IPC to punish persons indulging in forceful conversion. This is an inhuman, unconstitutional and targeted (against) particular religion,” he said.
The Congress veteran also alleged that the bill was brought with an intention to raise emotive issues, to divert the attention of the people from covid-19, floods and development related issues.
He said Hindu and Muslim population have increased according to 2011 compared to 2001 census, while that of Christians has comparatively reduced.
While JD(S) leader Bandeppa Kashempur, Congress’ K J George among others spoke opposing the bill, Hosadurga BJP MLA Goolihatti Shekhar spoke about his mother being converted to Christianity.
It remains to be seen as to how the bill gets passed in the legislative council, where the ruling BJP lacks majority.