The anti-conversion law in Karnataka has attracted much fury in the Cabinet due to its brutal clauses. The Bill, titled Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021, was tabled by Home Minister Araga Jnanendra in the Karnataka Assembly. Before conducting the voice vote for the Bill, the Speaker had mentioned that the Bill would be up for discussion today. The State Cabinet had already cleared the Bill on December 20. After the contentious Bill was tabled in the state assembly, arguments broke out between the Opposition and Ministers. Siddaramaiah, the Opposition leader, called the Bill 'illegal' as soon as it was tabled.
What Are The Brutal Clauses of The Bill?
After Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, which amended their anti-conversion law earlier, marriage provisions are virtually the same. However, what is concerning is the brutal set of clauses that this Bill brings along with it. Under the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021, if any person is found guilty of unlawfully converting, another person will face a minimum jail term of three to five years and a fine of ₹ 25,000. Moreover, suppose the person 'unlawfully converted' is either a minor or a woman or belongs to the Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes. In that case, the punishment is more — a minimum sentence of three years and a maximum of ten years imprisonment, and a ₹ 50,000 fine.
The Bill would also ensure that the accused pays a fine of ₹ 5 lakh to the converted if done so forcefully. First and foremost, the modus operandi of the Bill allows anyone and everyone to raise a complaint without any reliable proof against a person. Thus, there is a massive scope of registration of false complaints and undue harassment of an innocent. In case of a legitimate conversion, the procedure is lengthy and lasts for months. Apart from applying the conversion before the District Magistrate and after completing the conversion, the person would have to declare to the concerned official within 30 days, mentioning his details like birth date, father's name, address, previous and the new religion.
The Conversion Procedure
After the declaration, the converted person has to appear before the District Magistrate so that the latter can verify the details mentioned in the statement. The DM has to maintain an official record of the conversion then and inform the government officials of the revenue department, officials from the backward classes welfare department, minority welfare department officials, heads of educational institutions, among others, about the conversion through an official notification. After that, the government authorities are entitled to take the required steps to ensure whether the person who has converted to a new religion can enjoy the social status or economic benefits that he was getting from the government's side before the conversion.
Several ministers from the Opposition contend that the Bill is more stringent than Uttar Pradesh. Section 3 of the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021 punishes anyone who directly or indirectly attempts to convert any other person 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 the promise of marriage." While Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat also ban forced conversion due to marriage, they consider marriage null and void. The Gujarat High Court had deterred this clause from the state's anti-conversion Bill, stating that this would put the freedom of the person who engages in inter-faith marriage and willingly changes their religion.
In the Bill proposed by the Karnataka government, anyone, whether a related or unrelated person, could file a complaint against any supposed conversion. In the Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh Anti-Conversion Bills, only family members or the person's relatives, who might be forced to convert, could file the complaint. Moreover, like the Uttar Pradesh government's Bill, the burden of proof to prove that there was no 'illegal or forced' conversion, or a forced conversion through marriage, lies on the person who carries out the conversion or helps such a conversion. On the other hand, the Gujarat High Court had curtailed this provision for Gujarat, stating that the condition put 'parties entering into an inter-faith marriage into a great jeopardy'.
Opposition From Minorities
The Christian Community, which forms less than 2 percent of the state population, has reacted in Opposition to the Bill and said that since Chief Minister Bommai spoke about the Bill, the attacks on churches, prayer meetings, and religious minorities have sharply risen. The statement from the minority community comes after the ruling Party has alleged several instances of forced conversions of Hindus in the state.
The new bill would not only dissuade people from pursuing inter-faith marriages. Still, he would also provide greater entitlement to families and parents to decide the matrimonial match for their children. Any relative would be empowered to file a police complaint against an inter-faith marriage if they oppose it. The Bill eventually restricts an individual's freedom to practice the religion of their choice, which is also a fundamental right under the Indian Constitution.
On the one hand, the government alleges that those who convert to different religions do not change their names on government documents and certificates to avail themselves of reservation benefits under their particular categories. However, if the converted people apply for a change in their names, there is a high possibility of them being persecuted for their actions. Moreover, the proposed Bill provides increased autonomy to government and bureaucratic officials in an individuals' life. The District Magistrate and the Police decide whether a person's conversion is valid or not.
The Gujarat High Court had also struck down harsh penalties for alleged forced conversions. The punishments mentioned in the proposed Bill based on a complaint from anyone is a matter of grave concern. Moreover, it could be used to avenge personal rivalries. Draconian laws by several state governments concerning religion point towards the increasing polarisation in our society.